Carlos Valencia is the very talented New York-based artist who works predominantly with graphite on paper, meticulously creating some of the most flawless, compelling and downright unusual images we’ve ever seen. We gave Carlos a call to discuss his work, and how much it sucks getting a cold in the middle of summer.
You’re in Melbourne! When did you get here?
Four days ago. It’s a hella flight to do, too.
Yeah, I’ve done it.
I’m sick. It’s awful. It’s better than doing twenty-three hours straight, though, I’m not gonna lie. I’m not doing that ever again.
Yeah, I got the flu because goddamn New York is like a petri dish in the winter. I got it right before I left, so I’m probably going to be coughing a lot while I talk to you.
That’s all right, I’m sick as well. I got a cold out of fucking nowhere, and it’s the middle of summer.
Summer colds are the goddamn worst.
It’s so bad.
I went to see some doctor on Smith Street, and I got some stuff of him—the foulest-goddamn-tasting cough syrup I’ve ever had. I was hoping he’d give me the Lean, but nope.
The Lean, that purple shit—codeine.
Ohhh. Yeah that’s because you’re used to American cough syrup.
I wanted to robotrip, but instead I’m like—
Did you just say you want to ‘robotrip’?
What the fuck is a robotrip? What’s robotripping?
It’s cough syrup with codeine and then you drink it and then you’re basically goddamn hallucinating, dude.
Purple drank! That’s Lil Wayne’s thing.
He does that?
I think so. He was hooking into Sprite and cough syrup in his documentary. Off his tits.
Anyway, you’re an artist, you work with pencils.
Yeah, only graphite drawings. I don’t do colour—I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around that whole thing.
Where’s your studio?
I work out of my apartment; I’ve converted one of the rooms into a studio.
This is in Green Point, Brooklyn, right?
Yeah. I like to draw. I’m not a painter, I don’t do sculptures, and I can’t take a photo to save my fucking life.
And you appropriate a lot of stuff with your work?
Yeah, I’ll surf the web and find an image and draw it. I used to just do it straight up, which is almost like portraiture. But then I learnt Photoshop and so I definitely twist it or add more elements to it so it doesn’t just become a copy of the original image. For a while I was just doing stuff like that, just like, Oh look, it’s a cool image, I’m going to redraw it. I definitely got called out with people being like, ‘Hey, that’s my photograph.’
Yeah, that happened to me at the Journal show I had a while ago. This kid was randomly walking by—you know that band Salem?
Yeah, that dude, his name is Jack. He was walking by the opening and kind of peeped his head in and walked inside and came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, that’s my photo,’ and I was like, ‘Do you mind?’ and he was like, ‘No, I think it’s fucking rad!’ And eventually he got that piece.
Oh, he bought it?
No, I gave it to him. It never sold and it was just gathering dust, and I had his contact so I thought I’d just send it to the dude.
That’s so cool. So you’re saying what you’re doing now is taking images that you find and putting them through Photoshop and creating something else and then you illustrate it?
Yeah. I’ll twirl it, or twist it, or bend it or stretch it. So it’s still the same image, but it adds a quality to it. Like, I did a Goofy piece, a straight-up plastic toy of Goofy, and I drooped his face. You take this happy, iconic thing like Goofy and you take this tool in Photoshop and drop half his face off like it’s melting and it totally changes the whole thing. It changes the idea of it, anyway.
You’ve been at it for years now, right?
Probably seriously ten years.
And you moved to New York fifteen years ago from the West Coast.
It must be on sixteen years. The first five years I just wanted to live and then I started to get really serious maybe ten years ago, and then when Journal gave me that one-man show that’s when I thought, Oh, this could probably be viable. So I’ve been at it. I had a good year this year—sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw, I still don’t understand. I got this show at NADA in New York and had some pieces there, and then I was in two or three group shows in the spring, and now I have one coming up. It still justifies me doing it.
Yeah, but you don’t need justification. It’s rad of you to get some positive shit, but you love making your stuff, right?
How much time do you spend at your drawing board?
I try and do at least eight hours a day on my days off. I only work at the cafe, like, two days, so I’ll have a day where I fuck around and ride my bike and the rest of the week I just try to pump them out. I’ve been caught out before, where I’m just like, Oh yeah, I’m just going to draw when I have something coming up, and then all of a sudden somebody calls you and is like, ‘Hey, there’s a show next month,’ and you’re like, Holy crap!
Also it’s good to just keep doing it so you’re in a rhythm. When you’re out of it, it’s hard to get back into it—I guess it’s like writing.
It’s like any craft. If you play the drums and you’re rusty, it takes a while to get back into it, so you gotta keep working.
Check Carlos’s stuff at carlosvalencia.us