Art appreciation. It often conjures up images of snooty art critics and wealthy collectors buying artwork at prices no ordinary person could match.
However, the truth is that art appreciation is for everyone. Whether you are enjoying a new song on the radio, or talking up a recent movie you watched at the local cinema, or discussing a novel with a friend, or admiring a painting at a local art gallery, you interact with and (hopefully) appreciate art all the time.
Reclaimed metal sculpture artist Valentine Adams operates under this belief that “art should be for everyone.” Since 2008, the Nashville artist—who had previously lived in Austin before relocating to Middle Tennessee—has been creating metal sculpture work for private residences.
On retiring at the rank of captain after a 23-year-long career in the United States Air Force (USAF), Val got into making metal sculpture art—at first simply as a hobby.
“Being in the Air Force, you see so much that others don’t get to see,” he tells Launch Engine. “Even if you were to never leave American soil, the customs and ways of life are just like being in a different country. Service members move differently, think differently, and are almost completely different organisms from your average citizen.”
Val’s experience in combat gave him a new respect for both the “human vehicle” as he puts it, and the machines people use every day. Serving as an officer in the USAF, Val was able to see military aircraft in action, and many other types of equipment used in war.
A man of many interests, Val had attended the University of Connecticut to earn a bachelor of arts in American literature. After retiring from the USAF, Val considered what his next challenge would be.
“I absolutely loved the sense of purpose and discipline you get from serving your country,” Val explains. “And, I was developing more of an interest in machinery. All of the metal pieces that keep machines operating—moving in a perfect union to an intended effect—[that] was something that really stayed with me.”
Since he had spent so much of his career involved in warfare, Val wanted to do something that “fed his soul.” Val became interested in welding as a hobby, and he found a certain warmth and energy from cold metal. After trying his hand at welding art with repurposed pieces of metal, Val found a creative outlet that gave him the same purpose as being in the USAF. Simply stated, working in metal gave Val a sense of certainty and optimism about his connection to the world and people.
Val tells Launch Engine that “reclaimed metal is an artistic modality that represents the ‘Common John.’”
He elaborates, “The thing I’ve always said is that when I go to a junkyard, I see metal creations that may never exist again. Some of these things are obsolete, which makes them antithetical to a society that lusts over the newest, latest contrivance.”
Metal art reminds Val that there was a period of time in which American consumers were proud to purchase durable, domestic goods. This era was characterized as a powerful one that spelled prosperity for the nation. Now, Val feels that Americans have given in to a “Disposable Culture,” where feelings, relationships—and even the concept of value itself—has a short-lived life span.
As a student of history, this bothers Val greatly. Therefore, as an artist, he targets the Disposable Culture as the enemy.
“The metal from the 1950s is sacrosanct,” Val shares. “And using this kind of metal in my art is my way of making something for the working class. I want to create something that both the poor and the rich can admire for its contour, color, and cultural appeal. Art shouldn’t exclude people who can’t afford a ticket to the Frist [Art Museum]. I find that the people who need art the most are the ones who can look at one of my sculptures and proudly recognize where the pieces came from. That’s my tribe.”
Val’s sculptural work blends blue-collar and high art aesthetics. Since the metal is repurposed, iconic pieces of the sculpture evoke a familiarity, even if the whole feels new.
“When I’m in my metal shop, I’m not thinking about creating a veneer or a distraction. I’m thinking, ‘How can I create an immersive forest of experience that people can appreciate from far away and up close? How do I take carburetors, railway spikes, or old farm equipment, and apply those pieces to a sculpture with teeth?”
The thoughtfulness of Val’s work is something observers pick up on quickly. A graduate of the year-long Periscope Artist Entrepreneur Training Program of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville, Val’s sculptures are instantly visible landmarks in Middle Tennessee. The notorious 14-foot-tall “¡Dame’! Libertad” statue—which was initially created for the Nashville Ballet—was Val’s reconceptualization of the Statue of Liberty. The hulking piece was an attraction for many visiting downtown Nashville’s now-closed Mary Hong Gallery.
Val’s inspiration for creating this statue came to him while he was watching television news coverage featuring a person crossing the Rio Grande River to American soil.
“I thought it was incredibly courageous,” Val recalls, “because she was trying to connect to her family in the United States. She was all-in, carrying a water jug in one hand and her child in the other. I was instantly inspired by this, and I wanted to create my version of what freedom could be. While my statue was inspired by this moment, it actually turned into a person who is totally unencumbered by clothing, objects, or someone else’s exerted will.”
Val’s work has garnered the attention of those in Nashville’s music and business communities. He has made several larger-than-scale musical instruments. These instruments include a metal guitar that celebrates musician Hunter Hayes first #1 RIAA 5x Platinum Track, which was the 2012 song “Wanted.”
On the other hand, some of Val’s art is functional. His “Relax and Unwind” bench commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Brentwood Public Library is a permanent installation. Made with a valve handle from one of the World Trade Center’s towers that was a gift from a 9/11 first responder, the bench resembles a shelf of books and sets the tone for one’s trip to the library.
Val says, “‘Relax and Unwind’ was inspired by the nautilus-shaped jewelry the Stone Box Tribe Indians were buried with. This tribe, which was native to Brentwood, came to mind when I wanted to honor those originally seeking truth and knowledge. It was my intent to not only pay homage to this tribe with the hidden in plain sight nautilus design on the bench, I’m also wanting to connect my art, the bench, the land, and the history of the land with the community.”
Currently, Val is working on an arts installation for the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, for which he was co-awarded a grant with Randy.
Yet, Val’s artistic efforts are hardly limited to producing individual public sculptures. Back in August, Val collaborated with friend and encaustic transfer artist Randy L. Purcell on the “Cross Pollination” Art Show. This show was held at Turnip Green Creative Reuse.
In addition, Val will be participating in the “Down a Country Road IV” art show series. This exhibition will take place Saturday, November 13 and Sunday, November 14, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. The Theta General Store is located at 2278 Les Robinson Rd, Columbia, Tennessee. A portion of the sales for this event will be donated to the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville’s Artist Relief Fund.
For further information about the artwork of Valentine Adams, be sure to visit his social media.