Bronx Museum


On view through June 26 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts is Bronx Focus: Paintings by Valeri Larko, an extraordinary visual ode to a borough whose landscape is rapidly changing. Among Valeri Larko‘s paintings are many that are infused with the Bronx’s gritty graffiti. With her impeccable renderings of tags, throw-ups and pieces, the artist has immortalized our favorite art form in the borough that birthed it. On revisiting the exhibit last week, I had the opportunity to meet Valeri, who gave a tour of her exhibit.

We love the way you are keeping some of our favorite walls alive through your paintings. What spurred you to focus on this aspect of the Bronx?

I’ve always been interested in the urban landscape, and when I moved from New Jersey to New Rochelle — just a short drive from the Bronx — I discovered the just how rich the graffiti in the Bronx is. I think it is gorgeous, and I love how sites with graffiti always have great stories to tell.


Can you tell us something about your process? How long does it take from beginning to end to create a painting?

Everything is done on location. If a site interests me, I begin with a quick pen and ink sketch in a small notebook using a uni-ball pen. If I then decide that I want to do a painting of the particular scene, I do an oil sketch of it. For most of my studies, I work on 300 pound watercolor paper that I staple to a board. For the larger version, I typically paint two to three months, also on location.


What are some of the challenges you face in producing this work?

The weather is, by far, my greatest challenge. The wind is my biggest enemy. My car is — many times — my only shelter, and that is where you will often find me painting, especially in the winter months.

How do the graffiti artists feel about what you are doing? 

They love it. If they see a blank surface at a particular space where I am painting, they will sometimes ask if they can leave their mark on it — to be included in my painting.


What is your most memorable experience of painting on location?

There are so many, but here is one that comes to mind: I had been working at a site for several weeks on Top Dollar, a painting of a trailer truck. Then one day when I showed up, I was surprised to find a very large boat in front of the truck. I could’t imagine how it got there! Luckily, I had mostly finished the painting, and the boat seemed too clean, too pristine and too out of place to include. But a few days later, the graffiti artist SAET with his friend NARO showed up. Once SAET had christened the boat with his tag, it was totally transformed. And so I decided to add the boat to the painting. I was even thinking of doing a new painting of the boat. But that never happened!


Why was that? Why didn’t you get to do the new painting of the boat?

While I was still working on Top Dollar, Tommy — who was living in the Jay’s Hot Dog Camper — informed me that the site was about to be demolished. That is one of the hazards of working on site. Whoa! I still needed at least a week to finish my painting. Luckily I found the guys doing the demolition work, and they agreed to give me one more week to complete my painting! It actually took me eight days, and within hours after I finished, everything on the site was demolished. And what about Tommy who had been living in the camper? He headed on a Greyhound back home to Kansas City where he and his sons had built two houses!

Valeri-Larko-Top Dollar-Bronx

What’s next? Are any walls calling you? Any sites that particularly intrigue you?

Yes! I discovered an abandoned golf course across from Co-op City. And since I don’t know how much longer it will be around, I’ve been heading there as often as I can!

 What an incredible visual history you are creating!  And we are already looking forward to your upcoming solo exhibit at WallWorks in the fall.


1. Valeri Larko — as seen last week — at the Bronx Museum

2. Ferris Stahl Meyer Diptych, close-up

3. Corner of Boone Avenye and 173rd Street

4. Bronx Drawbridge

5. Valeri Larko painting at Top Dollar

6. Top Dollar

Photo credits: 1-3 Lois Stavsky; 4 City-as-School intern Sol Raxlen; 5 John Wyatt & 6 courtesy of the artist; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky with Sol Raxlen

Note: Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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An award-winning multidisciplinary artist, Brazilian native Priscila De Carvalho currently lives and works in NYC.  We recently caught up with her in the Bronx, where she was working with local teens on a mural to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Priscila De Carvalho

When and where did you do your first public mural?

In Puebla, Mexico a few years ago.

Are there any particular cultures that influence you aesthetic?

The street art culture and urban life, in general. I used to skateboard and surf back in Brazil.

Your work is not only beautiful; it also intellectually engages us. Does it have a particular message or theme?

Most of my work relates to the economic and socio-political issues surrounding the out-of-control urbanization of slum dwellers. I juxtapose my observations about sub-cultural communities with other contemporary issues such as climate change and pollution

Priscila De Carvalho

Do you work with a sketch-in-hand or do you let it flow?

I usually have a basic sketch design layout. But it doesn’t always go accordingly.

Do you generally work alone? How do you feel about collaborating with other artists?

Yes, most of the time I work alone or with some assistants. I enjoy working alone, but there’s also the communication and camaraderie — so important among artists — that only collaboration can bring.

What percentage of your time is devoted to your artwork?

At this point of my career, it’s a full time job. It’s not just the creative end of it. There’s also the administrative part. And gallery exhibits demand a huge amount of work…lots of business work, including networking.

Priscila De Carvalho

Any other passions?

Music. I studied piano for six years, but I just didn’t have what it demands.

As a muralist who works in sanctioned spaces, what are your thoughts about graffiti?

I’m highly inspired by graffiti — its energy and vitality.

Any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

Graffiti has its distinct history and techniques.   It has evolved from tagging into a complex art form. Many street artists started as graffiti artists.  Street art and graffiti are connected.

Priscila De Carvalho

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?

It can turn art into a commodity. But it must remain an option, as every artist has to earn a living.

Where have you exhibited?

I’ve exhibited in Spain, London, Paris, Berlin, Nepal and Mexico. I had my first solo exhibition at The Jersey City Museum in 2009.

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done as an artist?

In Nepal, I had to climb a 30-foot bamboo structure with no scaffolding. I was tied to a harness, and it was hard for me to visualize what I was painting. But it one of the most rewarding work/travel experiences I’ve had.

Priscila De Carvalho

Do you have a formal arts education?

No. I studied painting/sculpture informally for a few years before I started with my studio practice.

What’s ahead?

Some permanent public art projects and more exhibitions.

Interview by Lenny Collado; first photo by Lois Stavsky; all other images are courtesy of the artist.


"Sofia Maldonado collaborative street art mural"

This past weekend, Sofia Maldonado, one of our favorite artists, collaborated with the Bronx Museum’s Teen Council alumni and Jerry Otero’s Cre8tive YouTH*ink to fashion a mural celebrating the Bronx Museum’s 40th anniversary and its free admission policy.  The elegant mural can be seen on the exterior of the Andrew Freedman Home at 1125 Grand Concourse. Here are some more images:

Photos by Lenny Collado with special thanks to Sofia Maldonado, Jerry Otero aka Mista OH, Robin Cembalest of ARTnews and Miriam D. Tabb & Hannie Chia of the Bronx Museum.