On a chilly February night in Little Tokyo, a 6-foot-5 man armed with a spray paint can stands back to survey his work. Bubbles, paint drips, swooping lines and gazing eyes now cover two tall pillars in front of Hold Up Art, an art gallery that sits amid a cluster of small stores on Second Street.
For decades, Vyal One, or Vyal for short, has filled the city streets with similar works, which all retain his trademark dark, highly detailed style. Vyal settled on his name in the 1990s; he considered other monikers, but the idea initially originated from the associations of his works with evil and darkness.
Fast-forward to the present: Vyal’s work appears in everything from Warner Bros. Records’ art show Vinyl Revisionists to a commission by Neiman Marcus for an event celebrating fashion designer Christian LouBoutin. Vyal’s most recent undertaking, Visceral Rituals, opened Saturday at Hold Up Art.
The show comes eight years after his first solo show and despite his street and gallery credentials, Vyal admits his insecurity resulted in the long break.
“I know graffiti, and when it’s on a wall it’s cool and it makes sense and people don’t necessarily have to pay money to validate it,” Vyal said. “But once you put your work on canvas, you automatically start a process in your head: You think it’s only good if it sells, [and] that naturally starts playing into the whole equation.”
Despite that, the pieces in Visceral Rituals haven’t particularly changed or conformed to meet any specific expectations, regardless of their placement within a formal gallery setting.
“My art is my art,” Vyal said. “So really it’s the gallery that has to be aware of my work and they have to be able to be confident and back my work up 100 percent.”
Vyal’s artistic process also focuses on encouraging a natural, unforced creative flow. He does not sketch out his designs, and instead first envisions a certain atmosphere or effect to pursue. Painting his way through artist’s block and producing pieces as frequently as possible, Vyal continues to develop and explore his style.
Some of the most notable features in Vyal’s pieces are images of bubbles and eyes, the latter holding many important meanings to him. Vyal already sports a fascination with circles — which explains all the bubbles present in his works — but the specific focus on eyes comes from various reasons, among them his views on the sense of sight.
“I’m very thankful for the fact that I can open my eyes every day and see the things I see,” Vyal said. “We enjoy our senses, but we don’t think about them and we don’t give them the praise I think they deserve. Sight for me as an artist is the highest sense I can have, so I try to pay homage to it every time I paint.”
Though much of his work seems stylistically and thematically dark, many pieces also contain a sense of humor, something that mirrors Vyal’s thoughts on his personality.
“I’m a big clown. I love to laugh — I’m really standoffish at first, but once people get to know me, I’ll let my guard down,” Vyal said. “Being 6-foot-5 and looking like [a] Native American undertaker, people get intimidated.”
Visceral Rituals only reveals more about the artist’s complex personality, and the pieces each have something intriguing to say about his outlook. The title hints at some of the exhibit’s themes, but Vyal leaves much of the interpretation of his work to the viewers.
“I kind of stay within these confines of characters and stuff for the most part but now I’ve been doing these weird — I want to call them landscapes, but they’re not really landscapes — bubbles and lines and abstract pieces,” Vyal said. “The title of the show [is] open to interpretation and [stays] vague, but at the same time [is] totally about who I am as an artist and as a painter.”
Whether in a gallery or on the street, Vyal’s work forces people to look closely and give more than just a glance to street art.
In some cases the work eyes you right back.
Visceral Rituals runs at Hold Up Art until May 16.