Ed Valentine invites you into his complex, accessible world

The OSU-Lima art professor is one of five CCAD alumni featured in 'Land,' opening at the Beeler Gallery on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"Landscape with Drips, Painted Birds and Smudge," 2019, by Ed Valentine

Ed Valentine’s mother-in-law runs a business she calls Victorian Afternoon Tea, which involves opening up her sitting room to a group of women who are often celebrating a high school reunion or some other special occasion by partaking in this once-common ritual from a bygone era. 

“Eight women would be in her living room, and she would be serving them tea and little sandwiches, and they would talk about things like lace,” Valentine said. “Every time I'd go there, she'd show me this new lace pattern that she fell in love with. I think maybe she got that in my head.” 

Valentine, a painter who heads the art department at Ohio State’s Lima campus, began incorporating lace-like patterns into a recent series of landscape paintings, using the designs to imply a type of man-made nature. “It reminds me of the bottom of a Whitman's [candy] sampler box,” said Valentine, pointing to one of the pieces on view at CCAD’s Beeler Gallery for the exhibition “Land,” which opens on Thursday, Nov. 18, and features the work of five Columbus College of Art & Design alumni, including Valentine, Kurt Lightner, Bing Lee, Erin McKenna and Kate Rhoades. (Valentine, a Columbus native, earned his BFA from CCAD and his MFA from Ohio State.)

Valentine’s large-scale landscapes, which he considered calling “city park scenes,” begin with black chalkboard paint, on top of which the artist draws with a white Conté crayon (similar to chalk but with an oily texture). “The point of the chalkboard is to subconsciously remind you of what it’s like to make marks on a chalkboard,” said Valentine, who still teaches with a chalkboard rather than a whiteboard in class. 

Stenciled birds in various colors and patterns perch atop the lacy, black-and-white patterns (“a sophisticated doodle”), often accompanied by splotches of brightly colored, graffiti-evoking spray paint and other assorted drips and dots, all of which are purposefully placed but should feel accidental, said Valentine, who wants the paintings to be approachable.

“My job is to make sure that you don't really need any prerequisites to get into the painting. A lot of times, art goes way over people. You walk out [of a gallery] feeling so stupid,” Valentine said. “It's fun to invent a new language, but unless you share the alphabet with people at the get-go, what are the chances they're going to understand what you're saying?” 

While the pieces are accessible, they’re also complex, which, Valentine emphasized, isn’t the same as complicated. “I want a painting to do more than one thing. I never want it to illustrate an idea. I want a painting to exist on different levels,” said Valentine, who, at 70, has been painting for 50 years. “We can visually process so many concepts per second. … If you just allow yourself to stand there and look at it, all those things are coming at you at one time. And as soon as you try to slow it down to explain something to yourself, then you kind of lose it.”

Even the titles of the works invite viewers into the complexity. While Valentine briefly considered naming one of the paintings “Meeting monsters, both real and imagined,” he quickly dismissed the idea as overly precious and heady. Instead, Valentine chose titles such as, “Landscape with Drips, Painted Birds and Smudge.” “I just title them according to the ingredients,” he said.

Valentine’s “Land” paintings span nearly the entirety of the artist's series, from one of the first pieces to the last landscape, which is the most chaotic of the group, and which signaled to Valentine that it was time to move on to something new. “Once I can start to see they’re losing their potency, then I stop,” he said.