With his larger-than-life pieces, sculptor Valentine Adams gives those who view his work an exploration into the unknown. His art is the result of scavenging through piles of scrap metal to find pieces that have a shape or suggest a history that can complement his grander vision. Making use of reclaimed metals, Val’s voice is industrial, bold—and one that asks questions about our place in nature.
Val’s work offers something new, shiny, and often functional from old, salvaged, metal parts. The integral part of his process of creating works of art involves the combination of organically braided and intertwined metal bending techniques with texture. He finds meaning and comfort in making heavy metal feel ethereal and light. His ability to use salvaged items also aligns with his desire to work, utilizing principles of reclamation and sustainability.
“I look at my art as an homage to all of the people I’ve seen in my life who are struggling and broken. I want them to feel life, vitality, magic, and purpose. My art makes me feel those things, and I have found myself to be an unwitting advocate for the homeless, for salvaging and for reuse.” —Valentine Adams
Valentine grew up in Connecticut in the small town of Bethlehem. As a child, he was often alone after school due to the remoteness of where he lived. He became an artist the moment he delved into a book that described the theory and practice of telekinesis. He was fascinated by the notion of moving or altering an object with sheer mental determination. That exploration of pseudo-science launched a deep exploration into critical thinking and observation. In addition, his experience of isolation led to the development of an active imagination, which in turn led to the invention of fictional stories and friends as a positive way of coping.
“I would have entire stories worked out in my head. It was my way to combat loneliness because I didn’t have a lot of friends nearby. I had to make my friends up in my head and get acquainted with them. I was trying to calibrate myself for the possibility of impossibility because I wanted to be a voyageur!” — Valentine Adams
Valentine’s early aspirations were of becoming a writer. He was an English major at the University of Connecticut and later aspired to go into law. Valentine recalls his father, an independent business owner in real estate and commercial development, saying to him at a young age, “I think you’re going to be unemployable.” Simply stated, Valentine’s father saw a little of his own entrepreneurial spirit in his son and felt as if Val would carve his own way through life, rather than be guided by working for someone else.
After college, Val decided to go into the military because of his belief that “freedom was not free.” He believed it was his turn to serve his country. He served 23 years with the National Guard as an officer and spent 14 years in the Persian Gulf region. His desire has always been to help others. He explains,
“I saw things in the military that I couldn’t quite reconcile. In areas of combat, I compartmentalized in my head what was happening, but I had to be responsible for the mission at hand, and for my people, so I pushed it aside to deal with it at a later time.” — Valentine Adams
After leaving the military, Val started to struggle with an uneasiness within himself and soon recognized the effects of PTSD. Living in Austin, Texas, Val began trying to figure out how to work through his anger and anguish and focus on being “the master of his destiny.” He began experimenting with bending metal. He explains that in his moments of feeling powerless, it gave him strength.
“The adage in the military is that it teaches you to walk a thousand miles into the jungle, but what they do not teach you is how to walk a thousand miles out.” — Valentine Adams
Valentine started trying to find his way after returning to civilian life. Without a welder or a heat source, Val began finding ways to put his energy into bending metal because it was a great emotional release. He started making small metal pieces that had meaning just for himself. As people started to notice his work, he started to realize how much he loved what he was doing, and that led to his becoming a sculptor.
“I think a lot of us feel powerless. A lot of us contend with our brokenness in good and bad ways. Some people self-medicate, some people destroy themselves. Some do that for a time and go into rehab and get better. Me? I was like Forrest Gump. I ran! It was a physical effort for me that really helped me snuff that fire.” — Valentine Adams
As Valentine grew his craft, he learned how to weld and his work started to get larger. Val’s first big break was to create a commissioned guitar sculpture for Warner Brothers in honor of Hunter Hayes’ first #1 song at the CMAs. At the time, Val’s brother-in-law worked with the label and thought Valentine might be able to create something special. After showing photos of his work to the music executives, they determined that he was a perfect fit to create something special for the occasion.
Val believes in the notion that his favorite English teacher, Claire Ebe, offered to him in his younger years, “always be a beginner.” He goes into each project with that childlike wonder, allowing it to bubble slowly into something material using metal items he collects over time. He loves the process of starting with an idea, doing the research, allowing his work to flow, and accepting that it sometimes takes turns he never could have imagined.
“I grab things in the darkness, in my search and my process. I bring them to the surface, and sometimes it’s not even close to what I thought I had—that is wondrous to me. I love offering that gift to the world.” — Valentine Adams
When Val gets stuck, he says he loves to search for wood while kayaking on Percy Priest Lake in Nashville, Tennessee. He takes along his cordless chainsaw and searches the shoreline for interesting dead roots of trees along the water’s edge. It also allows him to be out in nature and to free his mind while being active.
The largest functional sculpture Valentine created was in 2016, for the Brentwood, Tennessee Library called “Read and Unwind.” As with all his projects, he started by researching the site and found that the land had been used as a burial ground by the Stone Box tribe. In his research, he discovered as a spiritual part of their afterlife connection, they were buried with nautilus conch-like shells around their neck. Incorporating that visual into his art sculpture, he was able to build a 6000-pound bench sculpture that looks like an unwinding conch shell from above.
He then included a broken valve handle that was given to him by a first responder from the North Tower of 911, feeling it would fit as a form of monumental remembrance of those who were once buried there.
Valentine discusses the symbolism of the valve and the difficulty of relocating the enormous work of art from his home to the site in our recent interview on The Creative Push.
“I want desperately for my art to draw people in so that they can interact with it. That gives me the best feeling in the world. I love that my art ends up in a home where it belongs, and it is no longer mine.” — Valentine Adams
Valentine has a deep respect for blue-collar workers, first responders, and fellow military personnel who are often overlooked in what they offer to society. He connects to their struggle to be seen, to be understood, and survive. His educated literary background intertwined with his service to our country shows his deep compassion for others. His creations often contain elements of hidden treasures and meaning that only he knows and understands.
“There’s a deficit of respect and pride for vocation in our country that other countries often seem to have. We should all be proud of what we do, no matter what we do. Just to have the ability to do it is a gift.” — Valentine Adams
Valentine has discovered an interest in mixing his metals with other mediums. He has started to experiment with wood and glass over the past year. Most of his art supplies come from junkyards, scrap heaps, and remote roadsides where such items have been illegally dumped. In addition, friends reach out if they come across something they think he can use. He finds beauty in the discarded, rusty items and finds using the texture of different metals a part of his creative process.
As most artists will agree, Val enjoys the solitude of being in that flow of creativity. There is harmony and balance to being around others and being in the seclusion of the creative process. His art has become a sort of therapy for his PTSD, relieving the heaviness of his time in the military. His desire to bend and weld discarded metal into beautiful pieces of art brings immense joy to him and to those who discover his work.
If you would like to see more of Valentine’s work be sure to visit his Instagram page.
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