Jessica Valentin isn’t afraid to put her heart and soul on full display along the walls of Muñeca Arthouse, a new art gallery in downtown Patchogue. That comes through in one of her favorite pieces — “I’m a Martian in This World Without You,” a digital work influenced by the loss of her two husbands. Its outer-space references and pink, green and purple tones capture a “feminist sad lady vibe,” she says.
“My grief and sadness come out a lot in my work,” she says
The work also exemplifies the self-taught artist’s mission to establish Muñeca Arthouse as a showcase for vibrant contemporary works reflecting digital and graffiti style art. “I wanted to curate a space where all of these overlooked types of art can find a home. I love Long Island and its arts community, but it’s hard to find a space that has graffiti art,” says Valentin, 40, of Bohemia.
Choosing Patchogue as the location for her art house was an easy decision for Valentin, who grew up in the area and attended Patchogue-Medford High School.
“I chose Patchogue because I want to be part of its growth and I created something I wish I had when I was young,” she says. Valentin, who serves on the board of the Patchogue Arts Council, has also worked with East End Arts Council, Huntington Arts Council and Ripe Art Gallery.
FINDING HER INSPIRATION
Valentin says her art is inspired by the spirit of loved ones — both living and dead. Her works are a combination of digital, comic book, graffiti and pop art techniques, where she presents dark subject matter in a colorful and light way.
Not all of Valentin’s art reflects sadness. “Yo Te Quiero Hip-Hop,” for example, is inspired by her love of hip-hop music. “There’s no heartbreak in that, just pure joy,” she says.
A handful of pieces in the art house have been sold and Valentin, who uses the pseudonym Ratgrrl, says she wants “everyone to feel like this space is for them.” She even encourages children visiting Muñeca to play with kid robot vinyl art toys. There’s also a gift shop where small prints, jewelry, pottery and postcards are sold.
Valentin, who is Puerto Rican, turned to her heritage in naming the art house “Muñeca,” the Spanish word for doll. “It's really important right now to be proud of who you are and to feel like you are representing your culture,” she says. “I’m not hiding my heart here.”
For followers of Valentin, such as Raj Tawney, 31, of Port Washington, who also works in the nonprofit art scene on Long Island, Muñeca is a welcome addition to the local cultural landscape.
“Walking into Muñeca Arthouse feels like a nonconformist's haven,” Tawney says.
He adds that because there’s been a lack of diversity in the arts on Long Island, he hopes Muñeca brings a certain “uniqueness” to Patchogue, attracting different cultures and artists to the booming town.
LOCAL ARTISTS FEATURED
In addition to Valentin’s creations, artists Diego Garcia, Ben Owens, Amanda Reilly, milks0p and Tom Benincase also have works on exhibit.
“As a Hispanic man and a painter, I feel there’s been a cultural gap in the fine-art industry. It’s finally starting to come together with places like Muñeca Arthouse in Patchogue,” says Garcia, 25, whose portrait of Muhammad Ali is on display.
The next exhibit, which is set to open in early September, will be devoted to Hispanic Heritage Month. Valentin plans to curate a show that will feature Hispanic artists.
“This is my life’s work in one space where I’m placing unusual forms of art,” Valentin says, “It’s everything I dreamed of that I'm placing all my effort and energy towards.”