A Fresh Eye

There’s a new player on the local arts scene with a resume so varied that it encompasses graffiti art, fashion design, photography and graphic design. Claudio Valdez, who creates under the name Quadrillion Miles, is a dynamic artist and muralist who has been a part of several high-profile urban art projects in both Ocala and Gainesville.

Valdez’s initial introduction to art was as a part of the street art scene in New York City, but his curiosity led him to pursue more formal training and several other disciplines.

“There were always a lot of urban street and graffiti influences in my work,” he explains. “That was until I was able to get some formal training in things like fashion, photography and graphic design. I translated what I saw and experienced in contemporary culture and combined it with my personal interests. Then I was able to encode all of that symbolism into my work, using pop culture as the main vehicle to create. A lot of high fashion is inspired by what is happening down on the streets. They look to absorb that fresh culture, because it is raw and untainted. It’s a feedback loop. It goes back and forth. I use a lot of logos in my work, but I fuse that with some ancient iconography. I want my work to be not only accessible to the younger generation but to have depth and meaning so someone who is older can connect with it as well.”

His unique outlook has allowed him to view the world with a distinct perspective.

“I’ve been grounded by creating art as a conscious vehicle for mental exploration,” he offers. “And my focus is always on the connection between the emerging and ancient worlds.”

Tragedy and a desire to find a new normal brought him to Florida.

“I left New York City right after 9/11,” he recalls. “That prompted my journey down here. I needed a change of scenery and to explore my own boundaries a bit. So I decided to take a breather from the city. I was in Gainesville for awhile, but now I live in Micanopy. There’s a certain appreciation for artists and a certain magnetic quality here,” Valdez enthuses. “So it’s exciting. People here are so willing to exchange ideas and share their skill set. They are open to collaborating. That’s important for the culture and allows it to keep thriving.”

One of his recent projects is a prime example. The Urban Revitalization Project for the Southwest Downtown Garage in Gainesville is an ongoing initiative to transform the garage’s gray concrete walls to five floors of vibrant murals by local artists.

“I lunged at the opportunity,” he recalls. “It was a chance to change the perspective about something that is utilitarian in nature and not a traditional art space, to touch all classes of our society. There were doctors and lawyers who parked there and they’d say, ‘This is fantastic.’ But we also met a lot of the homeless people, who would come and thank us. They’d say ‘I pass through here every day. The street is my home, and this is really beautiful.’ I like that idea that it crosses all those barriers. I think it’s important for art to be available on a wide spectrum, not just in galleries and museums where only a select audience is exposed to it. And it was great for me because I enjoy working with communities, as much as I enjoy doing gallery work and street art.”

He enjoys it so much that he also lent his talents to the forthcoming Ocala Skatepark, which is currently projected to open sometime this summer and will feature an installation of works by Valdez and a host of other artists.

“I painted two panels that depict these supreme beings, from tribal culture, called Naguals,” he explains. “There’s a lot of Mayan and Inca influence in my work, so I chose to depict these two very bold beings that can be seen from a great distance. These two beings are in love and presenting gifts to the community. It was a live painting project, done within a span of a few hours, as part of last year’s Levitt AMP Music Series. We painted as the bands played, and the community had the opportunity to interact with us. It was a bit of a challenge, but sometimes that kind of situation can produce some really great art.”

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