June 5, 2024

Oh Devil! New Temporary Artwork by Zach Valent whirls into Scottsdale

New temporary artwork is on view in Scottsdale! Among the creatives behind these works is Arizona-based artist Zach Valent, who answers questions below about his sculpture Oh Devil!, located on the northeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Roosevelt Street. The Temporary Public Art program provides opportunities for Arizona-based artists to create site-specific, temporary public art installations. It is managed by Scottsdale Public Art, a part of the nonprofit organization Scottsdale Arts.

Scottsdale Public Art: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in art.

Zach Valent: A couple of hours south of Chicago, where the Illinois River widens to a measured 2 and a half miles, lies the quaint river city of Peoria, Illinois. This is where I grew up. While I enjoyed the benefits of growing up in a city, I also found myself escaping to the nearby wilderness every chance I could. I love nature and wildlife, which ultimately inspired my artwork. 

Art has been with me my entire life. My parents always supported my creative pursuits, and I am fortunate to have had that support from such a young age. As a child, the focus was on ordinary things like drawing comic book characters and goofy cartoons. I became more interested in drawing automobiles and architectural structures in my teens. Ceramics was introduced to me at a young age, and, throughout high school, I became more interested in making sculptural artworks with clay and found objects.

After high school, I worked in construction and hospitality for several years. I had no intentions of continuing my education, and I don’t think I ever thought art would become my profession. During the day, I was remodeling homes, and at night, I waited tables at a bar and grill. Eventually, I started to burn out on this lifestyle. I wanted something more. At the time, my neighbor was a ceramic artist and was very quick to invite me over for some lessons. After a few months of working in my neighbor’s studio in my free time, I enrolled in some classes at the local community college. At first, I started with the mindset that I would be going into a trade program and only took a drawing class as an elective. Art classes in college were much different than I had expected. The open-minded guidance, the access to tools and equipment, and the freedom to make encaptivated me. I opened my mind to the possibilities of being a professional artist, and my professors, peers, and family again supported my creative pursuits. After only one semester, I decided to enroll full-time as an arts major. 

In 2014, after completing my bachelor of fine arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, I leaped for adventure and moved to Arizona, where I obtained a master of fine arts in studio arts from Arizona State University in 2017. Since graduating, I have continued to pursue my passion as a professional artist. In 2019, I started Zach Valent Studio LLC, focusing on commissioned-based artwork. In 2020, I completed my first large-scale public artwork, Local Honey, which is located at Tempe Marketplace, along the Town Lake pathway. I have completed numerous private commissions, partaken in international residencies, continued to exhibit my artwork regularly, and worked as a freelance preparator and fabricator. I am a faculty associate of ASU and Phoenix College, where I have taught design and sculpture courses for the past seven years. Art is my life, and while I have accomplished so much in such a short time, I know I am just getting started.

Scottsdale Public Art: What inspired the design for your artwork Oh Devil!?

Zach Valent: Oh Devil! was inspired by one of my first memories of Scottsdale. When I moved to Tempe in 2014, I stayed at a small hotel a few blocks away from this intersection for a few days while my apartment was being prepared. I remember sitting at an intersection waiting at a stop light when a dust devil zipped across the road, whipping debris in all directions. My dad, who was with me, chuckled and said, “Look at that little thing.”

Coming from the Midwest, I know the awe and destruction caused by tornados, but I have never seen one that did not feel life-threatening. While I am aware that dust devils can get quite large, they tend to have a less sinister vibe, and people often smile when talking about them. I created the lighthearted, more playful, and less devastating version of a tornado. When you recognize it whipping through neighborhoods, kicking up rocks and knocking over garbage cans, you wave your hand at it, chuckle, and say, “Oh Devil.”

Oh Devil! by Zach Valent is located on the northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Roosevelt Street in south Scottsdale. Photo: Brian Passey.

Scottsdale Public Art: How did you create Oh Devil!?

Zach Valent: I created Oh Devil! through a methodical process that came together smoothly. First, I created a digital model of a comical, cartoon-like tornado, using 3D modeling software. From there, I reduced the visual information of the model, which generated the more faceted and abstract structure that you see in the final product of Oh Devil!. Then using another software program, I was able to map out a 3D puzzle template that I printed out at large scale and assembled using cardboard. Once I had a full-scale model of Oh Devi!l, I cut and welded a half-inch steel rod to map the contouring ridges and valleys of the structure. When the structure was tack-welded together, I removed the cardboard and proceeded to weld and form the connections and transitions of the steel rod. The steel panels were hand-cut, using a plasma torch, and are secured to the structure using steel rivets. The framework structure of Oh Devil! is powder-coated and the monochromatic blue panels were sprayed with a cement-based paint.

Scottsdale Public Art: What do you hope people take away from viewing Oh Devil!?

Zach Valent: Oh Devil! is meant to be viewed and admired for its formal qualities and playful likeness of a dust devil. The focus is placed on being noticed. The intersection of Scottsdale Road and Roosevelt Street is bustling. There is so much visual stimulation here. My primary goal was to create something that would stand out amongst all the activity and be visually loud enough to attract attention. If the people who recognize Oh Devil! take anything away from viewing this artwork, I hope it will be a smile and an acknowledgment of good craftsmanship. If it provokes deeper thought, then hopefully, it is about the relationship between man and nature.

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