“And sometimes, when I’m throwing paint, I listen to Jimi Hendrix,” Andres Valencia tells me. I can see why an artist in their studio, briskly flicking color around, like they are beating a drum, lost in a moment, would do that. But when the artist is nine years old, it takes on a whole new meaning. Moving beyond his stellar music preferences (which are worth noting), nine or not, Andres can paint!
One afternoon, I was chatting with my friend on the phone. She brought up Andres’ name and asked me if I had ever seen his work and sent me a picture. I opened it and blinked hard, leaning my forehead closer to the screen as my eyebrows nearly met in the middle. “Wait, did you say he is nine?” She then said, “Yes! You have to watch the videos of him painting on Instagram.” So I watched videos and nearly clapped with excitement! She put me in touch with his father, Lupe, whom I just had to speak to immediately, and we set a time to talk to Andres.
I recall listening to the legendary motivational speaker Earl Nightingale once defining what he called “River people.” River people are those who, from a very young age, become naturally drawn to something and, through their unwavering dedication to it, become exceptional at whatever that may be. Then, they go about their lives doing that thing—going with the flow, happy being fully emersed, swept up in it. It is beyond goal-driven. What I am describing is innate, defining even. It takes instinctual sentience to focus one’s attention and stay on course, even for grown-ups. Andres is one of the best examples I have seen of this, and it’s exciting to watch.
The glaring question is when and where was the moment that piqued his interest in art?
“When I was little, I used to draw stick figures, and my dad, who represents an artist named Retna, taught me some techniques, and I started using those techniques.”
It would be natural for a four-year-old to dismiss a moment like the one with Retna and carry on in the haste and hurry of a four-year-old’s everyday activity. Important stuff like Sponge Bob and juice boxes, or perhaps a ride your big wheel?
Usually, children are responders, constantly absorbing what is happening around them, responding to stimuli, such as rewards and punishments, fears, demands of others, and trivialities. They are led; Andres is not that kind of child.
So much of who he is and is becoming has been fostered by great parenting. His parents, Lupe and Elsa, who appreciate art, have created an environment for Andres to flourish. They let him use the living room until the paint was just everywhere; they laugh, and then they made a studio for him in the basement. They were going to make a movie theatre, but this seemed like a much better idea.
There is a saying with kids; if you build the pedestal, they will climb up on it! And that is certainly true in this case.
History seems to be a big part of his essence. He almost appears like he is not from this time and yet, way ahead of himself! There appears to be a craving for knowledge in creativity within Andres and a maturity that can only make you wonder, why is he so drawn (pun intended) to the past? And how is it he paints like a blend of artists, both past and present? Why, at the age of four or five, was he intentionally deconstructing faces? Not to mention his incredible self-discipline to paint daily for years on end, often skipping social events because he would rather be in his studio.
With years of practice under his belt, Andres may require a step ladder to reach the top of some of his larger-scale works, but he is swiftly climbing the ladder of success, and to hear him express himself regarding it all is incredible.
DP- When do you get the chance to paint? Do you paint every day?
AV- I paint every day. I finish about maybe two paintings every day. That’s my routine.
DP-How do you start one?
AV- I usually always start with the nose and move on to the eye.
DP- Okay. And why the nose?
AV- Well, because the nose is the thing that interests me the most cause I do it differently. When I was little, I thought Picasso did that triangle nose and, I thought I’d try and, and then I looked him up, and he wouldn’t do that. So I took it as my own style.
DP- And so you had mentioned that you liked Picasso; who else?
AV- Well, I like Pollock, Georges Braque. I also like Francis Bacon, Dali, and George Condo, which I like a lot!
DP- What do you like about Francis Bacon?
AV- I like how he does the mouths.
DP- what was your favorite painting you’ve ever seen?
AV- Hmm, my favorite, maybe Picasso’s Guernica.
DP- That’s very involved. Do you, do you think you’ll ever make a painting that big?
AV- Yeah! I’m making one in my studio now. It’s a whole wall—I’m about halfway through it.
DP- I see you paint pretty big already. Some of those canvases are bigger than you.
AV- Yeah. For them, I have to get on a ladder. That’s awesome.
DP-When do you think you have the best ideas?
AV- When I’m eating, or almost nighttime, that’s when I have ideas.
DP- And when did you know that you wanted to do art more than just, let’s say, go on the playground do other things?
AV- When I found out that I was going to be an artist at first, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know that I was practicing because we had a Retna painting in the living room and I liked it so much that every day I would try to get it perfect. And I guess I didn’t know that I was practicing, and I got control of my pencil. (Some of Retna’s earlier works had faces and figures)
DP- Do you remember the first canvas you ever painted?
AV- I do. It was from Rite aid or target. It was a lot of colors mixed together, and you can see the nose, but I didn’t perfect that nose yet.
DP- And how old were you then?
Elsa (Andre’s mother): He was probably about four. And he would draw Prince and the musical instruments. He loves Prince, the artist. So at five, his party theme was Prince, the artist, and at seven, it was Chuck Berry! So I had to get a Chuck Berry picture and put it on the cake!
DP- What in the World? How did you encounter Chuck Berry at your age?
AV- There are so many books at the school library, and I went to the “Who was” section and found a Bob Dylan. It said that Chuck Berry was one of Bob Dylan’s favorite musicians, so I looked him up, and he became one of mine!
DP- What other music do you like?
AV- Rock and Roll. I also play guitar and piano. I like The Animals, Beatles, and I like listening to the Rolling Stones.
DP- Mom and Dad, were you fans of Chuck Berry before Andres?
Lupe- I had heard of him, but until Andres started listening to him, I didn’t know that most of the songs were Chuck Berry’s songs and Jimmy Rogers from the ’40s.
DP- I don’t know who Jimmy Rogers is..
AV- There are two. I like the one from the ’30s and the ’40s…
DP- Do you think your technique has gotten better over the last year?
AV- I think so. Every day it gets better and better.
DP- What other positive things do you say to yourself that you can think of?
AV- Well, just keep trying till I get it right. One time I just kept trying to draw something, and it took night and nights until I finally got it.
DP- Well, how did you know you got it?
AV- Well, I kept practicing. I didn’t give up.
DP- What would you like to accomplish this year?
AV- Probably this year I am painting a ginormous wall, every day I go and work on it, I’ll probably want to finish it. I like to paint on small canvases too, sometimes that’s where I do a lot of my ideas.
DP- Do you sketch out your ideas on paper first, or do you just go for it?
AV- I just go for it!
DP- Do you think you will ever sculpt?
AV- I do sculpt! I like to do heads, My best one is a flat one, and I looked at different people and to see their noses, now it is a hard face. When I was little, I would watch my mom sculpt, and I wanted to do that. Then one day, we got some clay, and I started to do human faces. I do regular faces, realism with clay, and I do abstract cubism on canvases.
DP- Would you rather go into the past and meet Picasso or would you rather go into the future and meet yourself and what you made?
AV- Maybe go into the future and see my futuristic paintings and use them and go back right now and use that style, but then I would have to make a new one!
DP- What are your favorite kinds of paints?
AV- I like acrylic paint. Sometimes I use oil paint. Oil paint makes it look professional like the Mona Lisa, but oil paint is kinda hard to work with; you need special kinds of brushes. It smells really bad and can give you a headache, and it takes so long to dry. I still have some paintings in the basement that I’ve drawn like months ago, and it’s still not even close to drying.
(I now directed a question to his parents)
DP- When did you notice that he was different in the most beautiful way? When did that become apparent to you?
Elsa- When he was three or four years old, he would paint, and he wouldn’t put the eyes in the usual place or the lips, and initially, I would try and correct him. I would say, what are you doing? There are two eyes and a mouth, and then suddenly I thought, wait a minute, why am I interrupting or interfering with how he is looking at the face. So we just let him do it. I remember letting it just be. He kept doing that, and I kept saying to my husband, look at this, what is this? So we just keep riding with it and enjoying it. Every time he painted or sketched, it was fascinating to see it. In the beginning, I would ask why, and then I stopped asking why because it was fascinating.
Lupe- We had this sketchbook, and if you look at his sketchbook, he did one where he drew a hotel with stick figures and TVs and a bunch of things going on inside this little painting. It evolved over time, but it consistently was different than most kids. I think another thing is that he kept the interest and wanted to learn and see George Condo and Picasso videos and had this interest in these people. It really got interesting during covid, when we didn’t know what was going to happen so we just bought a bunch of supplies and we bought these big canvases. Andres had no fear, and he wanted to do it. He was an artist.
DP-Do you ever paint with your sister?
AV- Sometimes, I do the painting, and she helps me pick out the colors. She is four years older.
DP- Is there anything you are super thankful for?
AV- Yeah, I’m thankful for my parents; they clean my brushes and open the cans of paint that are really hard to open.
Andres has his first show in NY where one of his first pieces, called, “The Observer,” will be made available for the first time ever publicly as an edition of five on canvas, all uniquely embellished by the artist, through Chase Contemporary. You can also contact his mother on Instagram DM.
If you would like to see him paint, Here is his Instagram. His mother has posted videos of him, and his parents have been amazed at the response. You can watch Andres doing what he loves and experience it yourself.
He has also recently done a collaboration with the Graffiti Artist “Risk”
Sometimes, we forget to see and celebrate family, beauty, love, and the now in life. So it does not go unnoticed that a young artist who draws from the past, an ancestry source, from master artists and musicians that have stirred many a soul can create something new that is beautiful, truthful and hopeful with his positivity and passion. It may be just what we all need: giving us the gift of the best of both worlds.