Natalia Torres Del Valle is a local Hillsborough artist who wears many hats: she’s a registered expressive arts therapist, an educator who frequently teaches classes and workshops through the NC Museum of Art, and a mother. Her most recent works, which are textured paintings created by using layers of discarded paint skins (typically the leftover stuff on a palette that would have been thrown away) and resin have been closely inspired by the necessities of the pandemic and by nature—especially mycological forms. Del Valle said she was inspired by “taking this thing [paint skins] that would be usually be discarded and transforming it into something new.”
Del Valle credited her eight-year-old daughter with getting her into fungi during the pandemic, when she and her daughter would frequently spend time outdoors and would take hikes to look for mushrooms. They both soon became obsessed with fungi: “mushrooms are amazing and fascinating and during the pandemic we started growing mushrooms at home,” Del Valle said. Going even further back, Del Valle recalled how she felt “a surge of creative energy” after her daughter was born: it was a time when she returned to making art after a long time away from it. Del Valle highlighted the many ways in which her professional and personal identities are interconnected: it wasn’t until she was in a graduate program for arts therapy that she fully embraced her identity as an artist because the program involved “a lot of unraveling yourself and getting to know yourself before you can help other people.” She also credited being an educator and a mother with “bringing a sense of play into [her] work” and with helping her embrace the unpredictability of the medium: she noted that it’s “important to be open to change because a lot of my painting process is really fluid so I don’t really know where the paint is going to settle until it dries…so I have to take it one step at a time.”
Del Valle takes inspiration from fungal shapes, but her work isn’t meant to directly represent any given fungal form; rather it’s an abstraction of the form—she is essentially “creating new species—if I can call it that,” she said with a laugh. The work is painstaking: it requires weeks to form the thick layers that make up the paint skins, but Del Valle relishes how working in this medium forces her to stay firmly rooted in the present moment and to practice flexibility as the paint skins warp and bend into new shapes. Del Valle has always been drawn to texture in her artwork: she has previously made art using textiles and embroidery.
In an artist’s statement on her website, Del Valle says: “My paintings are dimensional and communicate rare moments of witnessing life, growth, light, and form in nature.” Her paintings are striking in their abstraction: they evoke nature but are all invented forms; they employ bold, often iridescent colors in turquoises, magentas, and golds; and they are visually arresting in how sculptural they seem and in the dynamic ways they jump off the canvas, ignoring the margins and leaping off the edges. One piece—“landform meditation no. 36”—is reminiscent of a curving line of burst eggs with shiny yellow yolks against a richly layered background of deep blacks, golds, and ambers. But the egg-like structures also look like flowers with their shaggy, crimped edges, or like sea-life. Even looking at the picture over a screen seems to invite a tactile response: while examining it, I felt the strong urge to pluck on of these burst eggs and to poke at the yolk to see if it would jiggle, or perhaps to pop one into my mouth to see what it would taste like. During our conversation, Del Valle emphasized how the dimensionality of the pictures is part of the viewing experience and how walking around and viewing the pictures from different angles changes what one can perceive.
Another painting—an untitled piece with magenta petals against an almost glowing textured bark background—calls to mind rose petals suspended against a tree, as if they were frozen in the moment of falling. This piece, especially, seems to capture Del Valle’s artistic philosophy; as she says in her artist’s statement, “By recasting seemingly ordinary moments as profound, my work encourages a deeper intimacy with, and urgency towards, protecting our natural world.” In a painting titled “Golden Hour”—featuring delicate, wafer-like layers of gold and white pieces stacked closely together against a chalky white background—the fungal inspiration is at the forefront. The piece looks strikingly organic and it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s not scooped off a forest floor.
During our conversation, Del Valle showed me a new piece she’s working on—one inspired by pink oyster mushrooms that she grew with her daughter. Her daughter loves to give her feedback she said, which Del Valle values. She recalled fondly how her daughter might look at a piece like the one inspired by pink oyster mushrooms and ask, “can you make the pink a little darker?” or to “curve it a little bit?” and how this ultimately helps make the work stronger. “I take her feedback,” Del Valle said, which is an “empowering” thing for a young child to experience. It’s another of the many ways that Del Valle connects her lived experience to her art.
Del Valle grew up in North Carolina, but her interest in nature stems from her own childhood, where her parents “had this idea about incorporating nature into their lives” and to her grandmother whom she visited in Puerto Rico and who would surround herself with plants and often use herbal remedies.
Del Valle’s advice for aspiring artists or for those who find themselves stuck is to embrace the idea of a low-stakes daily practice: this can be flexible and varied—including things like taking a hike or taking yourself to an artist’s date to an exhibit you’ve been meaning to see; “even cooking a meal” can nurture artistic thought and expression. The important part to keep yourself engaged with art.
You can engage with art and find more information about Natalia Torres Del Valle at:
• Website: nataliatorrressdelvalle.com
• Instagram: @nataliatorresdelvalle
• Art for sale: works on paper at NC Museum of Art Store
• Hillsborough’s Last Friday: Del Valle’s studio at 108 W Margaret Lane Suite 206
(up the stairs and to the right)
Current or upcoming exhibits:
• Landform Meditations (solo), Halle Cultural Arts Center-Apex, NC
• COSO (Contemporary South) 2021 Biennial, VAE-Raleigh, NC