Interview with Dolores Valenza, Figural Painter/Sculptor,
Conducted by © Rocío Heredia De la Paz. August 2004

Rocío Heredia, Dolores Valenza and Larry Valenza, New York.

Please tell us about yourself and how you began to recognize your talents.
Don't remember when I wasn't doing some kind of artwork. I recall; I was maybe 6 or 7, wanted to go into the business of making masks for the cold of winter from paper bags. Felt I'd cut eye and nose holes out. Alas, my mother said she needed the bags for garbage.
My sister was doing drawing assignments for art class. I wanted to draw like her. I knew what I wanted to do in life even then. Parents, teachers, friends encouraged me on.

What were some of the main influences for you early in your career?
The Brooklyn Museum, Sunday outings there with friends, an asset to a budding artist longing to be able to paint and draw like the artists whose works were exhibited there. School trips to other Museums were also my pet day trips.
Illustrations in our schoolbooks were so beautifully drawn and painted. I remember the disappointment felt when the art style began to change in our books. Stick figures weren't my cup of tea.

Which movements have you been influenced by?
Firstly, realism then Impressionism then every movement. Though must say some movements have to grow on you.

Define your style. How have you developed your very unique style to the status where it is at now?
Don't know if I have a style since I enjoy doing anything that comes to mind. Perhaps if you are truly interested and want to do something, you learn all you can, experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. It helps to have a mother who thinks every mark you make on a paper is a Rembrandt and must be saved, even if it is a garbage bag, although necessity might let the bag go to its destined use.

Are there any historical or contemporary artists that you specifically admire?
Corot was my first love. I copied his work, which was good since doing that taught me a lot. DaVinci, verMeer, Falconet, VanGogh, A.St. Gaudens, D.C.French, Gaudy, Dali, Sargent, Picasso, Pollack, Granget, early Meissen masters. One could go on and on and not mention all of them; I would need to write a book to list all who influenced me.
Presently, my son, Lawrence, an artist, influences me.

How did you start to work with Porcelain?
Began with a ceramics course at the Brooklyn Museum art school. Ceramics, Porcelain were a new love to me. Recall seeing "Ophelia" by Cybis in an ad in a magazine. I longed to make a sculpture like that, little knowing I would one day be commissioned by them, and would see my work in advertisements.
Prior to that a friend saw some of my paintings and said, "If you can paint like that, you can sculpt. Those words spurred me on. I read all I could about sculpture. This friend taught me how to do Lace draping in Porcelain as well. Gave many classes on the subject. Then began working for a mold (hobby) co. My first commission was for a beer stein, a Lovers stein. I did everything from steins to bowls, clocks and tureens etc. That was a great experience since I learned how to sculpt for reproduction, how to refine plaster waste, block and case molds. Did want to mention that porcelain shrinks about 13 to 15%, in the firing, depending on the formula at the particular manufacturer. Ceramic bodies shrink very slightly. Learned how to work with tools, how to avoid undercuts, all very essential since every mark on the final mold will show up in the product requiring extra work. Another friend, Gale, said I should show my work to Cybis. Did so and got my first commission from them, and many more after that. I later went on to Hutschenreuther of Germany. Again, a fantastic experience, brought on by a letter to Gunthar Granget. I later was commissioned by many other companies. Also studied during this time, and was raising four children and one husband. Joke there.
I might note: As mentioned, Porcelain and other clay bodies can shrink so this allowance has to be kept in mind. Porcelain casts may have to have support in the kiln since the firing temperatures are so high; and because of design, they might collapse. If the pieces have extended arms or such, or are leaning, supports are used for each casting. They must be cast along with the model and of the same material. They; because of the shrinkage, have a one time use ...cost again, comes into the picture.

How do you feel being the first woman ever to be commissioned by Hutschenreuther?
I was the first woman to work in the Forming department at Hutschenreuther.
There were and are many women who have and do work as Shape designer, decorators and painters, etc. I guess I feel that any woman who makes an inroad for her is making it for all women. How did I feel, honored. How did they feel a mystery?

Dolores, talk us about your sculpting technique.
My technique is the same whether I am making a model for porcelain, bronze or jewelry, whether the model is wax, plasticene, clay or another material.
I usually begin with an idea, then a drawing. I make the model the size of the finished product, jewelry, bronze or synthetic materials.
Plaster molds: I make a plasticene or clay model, then a waste mold is made, followed by a plaster model which must be refined, then blocks and cases will be made.
A mold for porcelain reproduction (with perhaps the exception of cold cast porcelain) would be plaster. There are tricks to making a mold with inner pieces allowing for what may be undercuts. Hutschenreuther's mold makers are masters of this technique.
Since water is drawn into the mold, the wear and tear on the mold is great. This can in some cases require additional molds to be made since detail is lost. This causes greater cost.
Some figures are cast with heads bald, nostrils flattened for release from the mold. What appears to be loose garment parts etc. are added after the cast. Hair is added, nostrils are flared, flowers added, a lot of handwork involved. I feel that the cost is or has to be thought of first. The delicate color firings, some colors need low temperatures, requiring extra firings. Damage is great when so much handling is involved. Again, for casting in bronze, more freedom is allowed in the making of the sculpture. Molds used to cast bronze or jewelry usually are synthetic flexible rubbery type molds. These synthetic material molds are flexible and allow for more intricate modeling.

The lost wax method is used for all my bronzes and my jewelry as well. The waxes are heated out of the mold, allowing molten metal to fill in the spaces where the wax was.
Then the metal is chased, refined. I chase much of my bronzes myself. I am called too fussy.
I make most of my jewelry models in plasticene. I find that I can create and make changes as I go along better than I can carve in wax. When the model is finished, we make a mold,
Then cast wax in the mold, which is then refined. This is my method. I do carve some models in wax.

What qualities determine your choice of materials for intermediate forms and tools and the final result?
I have tools for plaster, tools for wax, tools to chase, etc.
Yet, despite the many tools I use, none can replace hands. You need the sense of touch and then tools to assist. I use very few of them often. Most are dental tools.
Rocío has introduced me to a new set of tools, which she uses in her work. They have been of good use to me too, in particular, for jewelry models. The modeling materials depend on the work itself.

How about fabrication? Do you execute the construction yourself? How often? Why?
In the case of porcelain, we, my husband and I, could cast and fire some pieces. We no longer have the equipment necessary to do this. We do not cast Bronze or other metals. Though some of the chasing of both we do here.
We are working at making prints of my paintings. We do make silk screens at our studio.

How your husband Larry Valenza influences you in your work?
Larry is my main critic. He can spot something I miss so quickly, and then it is so obvious to me. He is a master mold maker, having studied this craft. He makes all the molds I needed, plaster rubber etc. from waste to finish regardless of the model. Some final molds for bronze are too delicate therefore they are made at a foundry I often use, Excalibur.

Larry and I work closely together. On my site you will see a table; one of many, which he made and I decorated. We make stained glass together. I design he executes. He has restored many old windows, and created many to replace those that disappeared in renovations.

What challenges have you found in your career?
Trying to juggle family and work. Being away at times. Trying to do more than I can. The usual challenges most of us face. Also, some people think an artist must look and act like an artist, I guess Hollywood created a model artist and to some, I don't look artsy.

Dolores, you are one of the most prolific artists of your generation. You work several mediums and techniques such as painting, sculpture in bronze, porcelain, and jewelry. Which one satisfies most your inner self and why?
What satisfies me most is doing what I am doing at the moment. I try to do everything, which is not always wise. A good deal of learning and time can go into a project you discover you really shouldn't have tackled. Guess works, which I do without benefit of commission, are my favorites. My grandchildren were very good, if not eager models for me. I love the works that I have done for which they were the models.
A friend once asked me why I created such small figures, then answered his own question, "Guess there's no money in Pyramids."

Tell us about your use of color. Do you have any preference for any shade?
Isaac Soyer was one of my teachers at The Brooklyn Museum At School. I inquired of him if my works needed a message, since I felt they didn't have any. His response was "Color is your message." I do love color, though I try never to use black. I always try to make my own black from combinations of color. Naples yellow is a very important color for me. Isaac Soyer said no palette should be without it, I agree. I do love blue, all shades of blue.

Can you explain your use of drawings in the art process?
I usually make a maquette for my sculptures and a drawing for paintings. At times a maquette of clay for some of my paintings is made as well.

At BTDesign Art Gallery we have already featured artists who experienced sickness and found art as an escape from physical sufferance. I was wondering how your health problems have affected your creativity. Can you talk about your own journey and how your experience in 1980's affected your work?
While I do have some serious health problems, I do not dwell on them, though they are always there. Can't say I suffered from them either. We all have some problems in our lives we would rather not have, but life is like that for us all. I am fortunate that I have just continued to work as I always have and will do so as long as I am able.

You are not only an artist you are an art teacher. You have strong interest in both creating art and teaching. Do you think that your experience of receiving formal education from Masters such as Pascal Rocco, Isaac Soyer and Bruce North, amongst others, was the origin of your desire to become an art teacher?
Perhaps, but in general most artists are always studying and learning. You are asked so many questions and in answering you teach. Pascal Rocco was for me a model. He is a kind gentle person. Taught me how to look at what I was doing, the light, shadows, color etc. He left nothing out that would help you as some teachers do, unfortunately.
I've mentioned Isaac Soyer, who was a wonderful person, a super artist. He helped more than he would ever know.

How has teaching influenced your work, and what of that do you wish to impart to your students?
Encouragement. I think one has to first find the good in a student's work, where they are improving, point that out to them, make suggestions about what they might do. Ask them if they agree. It helps too to know the limitations a student may have. Some of my students had vision problems, but they wanted to paint very much. They had talent and drive, but needed guidance and encouragement. Some beautiful works came about that way.
Really, I feel that one can teach new methods, new tools, materials etc. Talent you can't give or teach, but if you want to be an artist, it's sure a great help having it. The teacher has to work around all problems.

What are the most meaningful events in your career that you look back at with satisfaction and pride?
Receiving commissions. I always felt these were awards and I got paid too.
Being able to do what I do and loving it. Having a solo Exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A great influence in my life. A little bit of Heaven in Brooklyn. Seeing others enjoy my works.

How has your work evolved over the years, and what brought about these changes?
Perhaps it is all education. One learns so much and suddenly things jell for you, you see light, shadow, colors and composition in a different way. A painting you worked on 5 years ago and put aside, you've been working on subconsciously and suddenly you have new information in your brain as to how to continue and it is like you never left it except now you know how to proceed. A great feeling.
I fell in love with Picasso's Mademoiselles D'Avignon while doing a museum paper for class. Nothing like sitting down and giving all your attention to studying one work, writing down your thoughts and feelings about it. Finally you may come away with an understanding of the work. Picasso was not my favorite cup of tea, till recently.
That work is to me, masterful.

What about your immediate plans for the future?

To live long enough to complete works in sketch and Maquette form. I have a "to do" list. But if tomorrow I could no longer "do", I would be and am so grateful for the gift I was given and the drive to do something with it.

Do you think that the Internet has positive and/or negative effects on Art?
Both. If you are going to use a material available to aid or enhance your abilities it can be a fantastic tool.
To progress in art, change occurs. Your style, your palette may not change, but somehow change occurs. I am now using the computer as a tool for my work. However, the use that some people make of the computer is of great concern to many.
As we know computers reach millions at the press of a button, all this was not available to artists in the past. Prior to its inception, artists exhibiting at a gallery or a museum drew relatively few people. We all know how the computer has opened the doors, which was shut to many artists. It seemed that the same people were always exhibiting, alive or dead, I guess this is financially motivated. However, now many can show their wares, but in doing so, we must face not only an audience of perhaps thousands, but an audience of perhaps thousands of critics too, so we must be prepared for the barbs thrown our way.

What advice would you give a young artist just starting and wondering where to begin?
Study; be willing to take the time to try. Visit Museums and galleries. Go to the library, read. Learn how materials can be used. Don't just glance at paintings, or other works of art. Really look. Also, experiment. Draw, and redraw. Learn from an art supply store such as one we have in NYC, Pearl. The clerks, who may be art students and are up on all new materials and tools, are a font of information. They know their products and they are willing to explain their use to you. An Art supply store can sometimes be a real Learning Center.

Finally, how do you feel you have blessed personally from embracing the life of an artist?
Joyful beyond measure!

Interview with Dolores Valenza conducted by © 2004 Rocío Heredia - All Rigths Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction forbidden.

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 Dolores Valenza, Paintress, Sculptress, Jewellery Designer

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