“What I liked above all in street art is the possibility of making my art accessible to everyone in the street, as well as the fact of sharing the process with passers-by and the different interactions we can have with the spectator.”
A wanderluster, Valérian Lenud has been travelling for decades, drawing inspiration from places where he have been. In the meantime, he also developed his own way of combining figurative compositions with pop-graffiti aesthetics. Valérian’s fondness for street art is attributed to its democratising quality that allows all to access art. As a result, Valérian’s work are largely about everyday people whom he photographed during his travels.
For both street art and works on canvas, Valérian deals a lot with hand-cut stencils and combines them with different mediums, ranging from aerosol to markers. Within this practice, he combines chaotic shapes, multicoloured backgrounds and subtle shading to create captivating portraits. The contrast between the dull streets and such colourful works emphasises the exuberance of life that people often overlooked.
Q. Could you briefly describe how you started your art journey?
I started painting very young, with a first exhibition at 8, before exploring street art self-taught during my studies in Marseille. I then left France when I was 21 for a long journey, starting in Argentina and followed by a backpacking trip through Latin America. In 2013 I fell in love with Mexico, its culture, people and colours, which inspired me a lot.
So I naturally decided to settle there and start my professional career as an artist, opening my first workshop and making my first exhibitions there. I’m now based for half a year in México and the other half in France.
Q. You’ve travelled a lot. Could you tell us more about your trips and how they influence your art?
My travels are my main source of inspiration. Adventures allow me to open all my senses, and develop my spontaneity by living in the present moment, which gives free rein to creativity through colours, sounds, smells or encounters. I have visited around forty countries over the past ten years, and most of my works are inspired by the different cultures that I have come to discover and photographs taken during my travels.
My influences are traditions, faces, and people in general. I have always had an attraction for those who send messages through their art, street artists and storytellers. The Little Prince by Saint Exupéry is an important book for me, and it has followed me since childhood. He has always inspired me, in particular by his way of discovering the world with innocence and curiosity. In tribute to this character, I use a small stencil representing the Little Prince. I paint with it in the cities I have been to and also on the back of my works. It has become part of my signature.
Q. Why do you favour the street art style in your creation? How do you think it differs from any other mediums?
What I liked above all in street art is the possibility of making my art accessible to everyone in the street, as well as the fact of sharing the process with passers-by and the different interactions we can have with the spectator. In terms of technique, I would say that urban art offers a more active and spontaneous dynamic that corresponds to my personality. It also allows me to combine my passions, travel, and painting through urban art festivals as well as personal projects within communities.
Q. Why do all your artworks have a constant focus on portraits?
In my travels, I have always sought connection with others, the discovery of a culture through its inhabitants, the sharing of traditions and what makes the identity of a country or a geographical area. Portraits tell stories, moments of sharing and exchange through the eyes of the subject. I am also a photographer; portraits have always been an important part of my shots. By representing popular icons coupled with portraits of strangers, I want to give a complete vision of a culture.
Q. It seems you are based in France and Mexico for half a year each. Does this have any implications for your artistic practices?
Yes, living between two countries as an artist requires good organisational skills. First, I need to have two workshops. Sometimes I also need to ship artwork from one place to another for exhibition purposes or client inquiries. But it also allows me to work and exhibit easily in both continents. I also inspired myself from both locations.
Q. How did you arrive at your current artistic technique, which combined many different techniques?
I started with acrylic painting when I was young, but I have evolved mainly with urban art techniques for the past fifteen years. Today, my works on canvas are made with a mix of techniques and tools I discovered and explored during my art journey, such as bombs, stencils, collages, brushes, palette knives and markers. I always try to find new techniques to improve my work and stay evolving.
Q. Could you share with us your process of creating each artwork?
The process is different for each artwork but let me explain it in a general way. First, I work from a photograph, an image or a drawing, then I edit this image on the computer, draw on my tablet, and print it in multiple copies. Next, I hand cut my stencils, and this is a long process that requires a lot of hours of dedication and patience.
Next, I paint. Generally, I start with the background working with a mix of techniques such as spraying, tagging, stenciling, and painting with brushes, fingers, rolls, markers etc. After that, I spray painted my different stencils, one by one, to achieve my realistic portraits. The last part is putting details, colours, patterns, dripping and splashes.
Q. Since your works focus a lot on humanity, have you ever involved yourself in any humanitarian or non-profit work as an artist?
I have been participating in many non-profit works, festivals, auctions for foundations (Alzheimer, children with cancer, for education), etc. For example, it was also in Mexico that I carried out my first community mural projects. About a month for each city, in Saltillo, Zacatecas and Culiacán, with a collective of Mexican street artists, painting people's houses to bring awareness and art to complicated neighborhoods.
Soon I wanted to do it myself and develop my own projects. My last one was in Kenya, with the Massaï community. I have been there by myself, living with the community, painting at the school with children, and teaching them about colours, art, and languages. This also resulted in a series of photographs I used for a collection of original paintings.
Q. Do you have a proudest piece of artwork to share?
It’s hard to choose only one piece but I would focus on one of my canvases made after the Massaï project. It’s a portrait of Makena, a man I met in the community during my time there.
I really like the way I depicted him in this piece called “Amboseli” which is the name of this region of Kenya. I think this kind of work shows how I try to connect with people through my art, how each piece tells a story and how I transfer a moment and an encounter onto a painting. It has been painted with a mix of stencils, spray paints, and acrylic with palette knives on all the accessories and clothes.
Q. Are there any other artistic approaches you would like to try in the future?
Yes, of course, in fact, many of them! As an artist, you must keep exploring your life and try different mediums, techniques, and approaches. For example, I would like to work on a sculpture and try to transfer my portrait's universe into three dimensions.
Q. Could you describe your work in 3 words?
Explosive, Humanist, Urban