Photo of mural with cactus and a heart

The Heart of the Desert

10 Nov 2015 by Katie Lahman

Insight’s partner forum, Synergy16: The Power of Purpose, took place last week. Partner winners were presented with beautiful, handmade awards designed by Roy Wasson Valle. Prior to crafting unique pieces, Valle graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in sculpture, which became a de-facto emphasis in printmaking. After meeting his wife, Koryn, they discovered their passion for making tangible environments viewers can experience firsthand.

Fireweather Studio, Valle’s company, specializes in installation shows where they create an entire atmosphere viewers can enter and interact with. The settings use paintings, sculptures and graphic designs to tell stories.

So how did he get into the custom award business?

“To be honest, this was the first time I have been commissioned to do such a thing,” Valle says. “My primary skills as an artist are those of a sculptor and printmaker.”

We caught up with Valle to learn more about his work, process and inspiration.

Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?

My inspiration, as is the case for most artists, comes from many sources, so it’s hard to pinpoint one. I grew up in Mexico during the 80s, and while I lived in a country with a rich, colorful history and artistic traditions, I was also the product of American culture. I draw my inspiration from the handmade toys and artisan goods that Mexico has to offer, along with the American action figures, cartoons and movies I have been exposed to. It makes for a huge body of resources to draw from.

What inspired your creation for Insight's award?

Living in Arizona, I’m influenced by the Spanish Colonial heritage and turned what is somewhat religious imagery into the concept of the Heart of the Desert. It was important to me that each award stand on its own while being a part of the larger whole. It’s the reason I created the wooden medallions on each award — they’re an echo of the bigger entirety.    

Do any artists inspire you?

I have been inspired by artists from many different fields — including Rufino Tamayo from Mexico and Takashi Murakami in Japan, to Tim Burton and Jim Henson. I am also influenced and inspired by my contemporaries such as David Quan in Phoenix and muralist Jet Martinez in San Francisco.

Where did you get the idea to use firewood from Yarnell, Arizona?

My parents had a ranch in Yarnell. In 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire destroyed it along with others. After the fire, I began experimenting with some of the most beautiful natural material that I have had a chance to work with. I find some solace knowing it's not being used for firewood — and is in someone’s hand bringing greater meaning.

Do you typically incorporate wildlife into your pieces?

It has always been important to me to use materials that are available, and for years that meant cardboard and found objects. The tragedy of the Yarnell Hill Fire gave new purpose to what it really means. I am more interested now than ever before in incorporating the materials left by this fire, which include natural woods and the detritus the buildings left behind.

In addition to the unique awards, Insight's forum included an inspiring presentation by Roy Spence, author of "It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For."