Sac State encouraged muralist Bryan Valenzuela to color outside the lines
September 29, 2021
When he came to Sacramento State, Bryan Valenzuela ’03 (Art Studio) did not know he wanted to be an artist – although he knew he wanted to do something artistic.
A voracious reader as a child, he gravitated toward writing and, later, music. When he enrolled at Sac State, he said, he “didn’t have much direction.”
“I bandied around the Music department and the (English Literature) department, then was sucked in like a magnet to the Art department and from there on became a lifelong art student,” Valenzuela said. “After college, I worked at museums, picking up skills along the way. Now I’m a full-time professional artist, which is a feat unto itself.”
His artwork can be found on canvases as small as wine labels and as large as the sides of buildings. In Sacramento, his best-known works include a mural in Midtown that was part of the 2017 Wide Open Walls festival, and a sculpture inside the Golden 1 Center that evokes the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.
Most recently, he created a mural at Arden Fair mall as part of a project to engage the public. The Many-Colored Threads That Weave the Collective Dream incorporates written text of the responses Valenzuela received detailing people’s aspirations, wishes, and desires following an unprecedented year.
“I learned so much ... about public art in general, which is very inspiring. I think that’s something I didn’t really think about prior, the idea that the common person or just anybody who is not particularly interested in the art world is able to stumble upon it and be affected without having to seek it out.” - Bryan Valenzuela
The piece is emblematic of his unique artistic style, which incorporates written text into the larger image. Seen from afar, the text blends to create lines, shadows, and shapes. As the viewer moves closer, the individual words – typically Valenzuela’s musings on the theme of the artwork – come into focus.
(Sacramento State video by Phillip Altstatt)
Valenzuela compares the text to DNA, the hidden language that underpins all life.
“It’s only in the last 100-and-some years that humans have been able to peer into that microscopic world through current technology,” he said. “That’s such a fascinating thing to me to be able to look closer, to be drawn in by the ability to look closer.”
Valenzuela was born in Orange County, where he lived until he was 14 and his parents moved to El Dorado Hills, about 20 miles east of Sacramento. He played violin and guitar from a young age. Starting about seventh grade he got “big into reading,” but was not exposed much to the visual arts.
In 1999 while at Sac State, however, he took a summer painting class on a whim, and there he met Professor of Art Tom Monteith.
“He said, ‘Well, where have you been?’ I was just trying to go from department to department, trying to figure out where I belong,” Valenzuela said. “It took a couple more semesters, and then I finally took the leap and switched over to being an official art student.”
Monteith knew that Valenzuela was, at the time, a Music student but, based on how well he took to painting and “his keen interest in it,” suggested he consider the visual arts as well.
“Though it was a beginning Art class, Bryan already seemed to come in the door with an artist’s perspective. No doubt his music background was a big factor,” Monteith said. “He was, and still is, upbeat and has a genuine poet sensibility. He exhibited an unusual receptive openness to things, not only to art and visual experience, but to the world in general.”
Valenzuela said Sac State’s small classes allowed him to develop strong relationships with faculty members like Monteith and then-Professor Linda Day. He was “super into all of the New York artists of the 1970s and ’80s,” of which Day was one.
“It was pretty amazing to have classes with her,” Valenzuela said.
The Art department, he said, also allowed students to think beyond conventional boundaries and make the case for taking projects in different or unique directions, a crucial capability for professional artists who typically don’t have the benefit of assignments, prompts, or specific instructions.
“I absorbed a lot from art school about being creative and forging your own path,” Valenzuela said. “It’s one thing to have people tell you what to do or have an assignment of how to do something, and it’s another thing being in the professional world where you could literally do anything, and so you have to figure out how to manage that.”
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Bryan Valenzuela and his art
Valenzuela, active as a professional artist for more than a decade, only recently became involved with public art. In 2016, officials at the Golden 1 Center – the new downtown arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings – wanted to fill the space with artwork and asked for submissions. Valenzuela’s piece, Multitudes Converge, was among those ultimately selected.
“I learned so much during that process about organizing large projects, but also about public art in general, which is very inspiring,” he said. “I think that’s something I didn’t really think about prior, the idea that the common person or just anybody who is not particularly interested in the art world is able to stumble upon it and be affected without having to seek it out.”
Valenzuela participated in Wide Open Walls, Sacramento’s citywide mural festival, in 2017, contributing a 90-foot-wide piece titled Kumbaya Moment along 28th Street between R and S streets. He has also created murals in Modesto, Napa and San Francisco.
“It's an amazing thing to be able to engage in a conversation with the public in that way,” he said, “and to beautify any space or city with expansive ideas or enlivening aesthetics.”