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Assistant Art Professor Takes Elvis, Madonna to Italy

Published: September 21, 2010

Chris Valle sees parallels between Elvis “The King” Presley and the Christian “King of Kings” icon Jesus, between pop icon Madonna and Mary mother of Jesus, between Kid Rock and St. Thomas.

The contemporary artist transposes images from pop culture over Italian altar paintings he recreates from the 15th and 16th centuries, drawing a parallel between religion and pop culture. His paintings from the Altered Series are being exhibited in Italy, where his artwork draws its base, in the Contempor ART 2010 at the Galleria D’Arte Mentana in Florence.

Valle, an assistant professor of art at UT, is one of five artists chosen for the competitive exhibit which shows until Oct. 7. Valle’s participation is made possible with the help of a UT David Delo Research grant.

Valle’s interest grew after leading a student trip to Italy in 2006, and he kept seeing these altar images everywhere they went. He said they were bombarded with the images and their messages, much like how popular culture bombards the viewer today.

“I like to show how popular culture is becoming religion for some people,” said Valle.

The process starts in Photoshop where Valle does his preliminary studies (which he teaches to his UT students.) He combines sketching and photography to come up with his overlay design, creating a stencil from the television image. When he is finished painting the Italian altar image, he air bushes through the pop-culture stencil onto the Italian recreation. At this point Valle overlays with decal paper, using new paper with each color.

“I don’t know anyone doing this method,” said Valle, who has published two books on his Altered Series of paintings. “I believe the more you take advantage of your tools the more successful you’ll be.”

The result is that you can’t look at one image without seeing the other. In all of his works Valle references the Christian Trinity by aligning the figures so they share one eye, making just three visible.

"Saint Paris of Gucci" includes an image of Paris Hilton on the ancient altar painting.

In “Saint Playboy,” Valle imposes the image of a Playboy Bunny over the image of a saint which has her arms crossed, holding a Bible. In the overlay image, the arms appear to be pushing up the breasts of the provocative woman much like a bra, referencing breast augmentation and the idea that plastic surgery to enhance the female body is now the norm prescribed by pop culture.

In another piece, rapper Flavor Flav’s outlandish attire is a parallel to the seemingly outlandish clothing worn by clergy in the 15th and 16th centuries. In another, Kid Rock’s hand signs are compared to religious hand symbols made by St. Thomas.

“Not much has changed,” Valle said of the parallels.

Valle said experiences like this not only help him professionally, but benefit his students. He shares the process with them, including the rejection letters from other shows, and explains the idea of show themes. He also shows real-life applications of his in-class teachings.

“A lot of my students will be impressed that I practice what I preach,” he said. “When they look at the whole body of my work they see how it is all inspired by one idea in many facets. It’s what I try to inspire them do.”

Valle will follow up the Florence exhibit with his 10th solo exhibit in 11 years. Altered: Chris Valle Paintings will show in mid-November at the Applebee Gallery in MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL.

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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