Skip: See Past Exhibits Below

Born in Los Angeles California in 1953, Mark Vallen has been creating images for as long as he can remember. He has forged a style shaped not so much by how others painted, but what they painted. With a commitment to figurative realism his influences are wide ranging; the painters of the late 19th century American Ash Can School; the German Expressionists of the Weimar years; the artists of the Mexican Muralists Movement and German Renaissance; Goya, Daumier, and the socially conscious American painters from the Great Depression era.

Vallen at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 2015. (photo: Jeannine Thorpe)

Vallen’s aesthetics emerged from the turmoil of the late 1960s; he took cues from the Chicanarte or “Chicano art” scene, found inspiration in the works of black American artist like John Biggers and Charles White, and became infatuated with the West Coast psychedelic paintings and posters of the era. In 1971 at the age of 17, he had published cartoons in the Los Angeles Free Press newspaper; that same year he published his first street poster, a pre-Watergate artwork titled, Evict Nixon!

For a short time he studied art at the prestigious Otis Parsons Art Institute of Los Angeles, but became disillusioned with art school. He quit Otis to join the art university found on the streets, which is another way of saying, he considers himself to be self taught.

Mark Vallen 2019
Vallen trekking the wilds of California (photo: Jeannine Thorpe)

Vallen was part of the original punk rock movement that exploded in Los Angeles during the late 1970s. His direct participation led to a series of paintings, prints, and drawings that not only documented the scene but enthusiastically supported it. He worked for a time at LA’s Slash Magazine, one of the premiere punk journals in the US, where he created two of the publication’s most well known cover illustrations.

During the 1980s Vallen created prints and drawings that focused on the unrest and turmoil engulfing the world, from Los Angeles to Central America and South Africa. Throughout this period he created precise and finely detailed, black and white pencil drawings that commented on the human condition.

Today Vallen’s attention is mostly focused on oil painting, and he remains an advocate for social and figurative realism in art. He is also the author and publisher of the popular Art For A Change blog (founded in 2004), where he writes about art and its intersection with social and political realities.

Exhibits, Accomplishments

Faraway, So Close: Photographs of Los Angeles in the ’80s

Morono Kiang Gallery

February 4, 2012 through March 31, 2012

Vallen exhibited six never before shown photos at the group exhibit of photographs on the theme of LA as it existed between the years 1980 and 1989. The exhibit also featured works by Sara Jane Boyers, Edward Colver, Willie Middlebrook, Ann Summa, May Sun, Shervin Shahbazi, and Richard Wyatt.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981

Geffen Contemporary MOCA Los Angeles.

October 1, 2011 through February 13, 2012

A comprehensive survey of California artists during an extraordinary period of American history. Vallen’s 1980 silkscreen poster, Whatever Happened To The Future! was included in the exhibition and exhibit catalog. Artists included John Baldessari, Royal Chicano Air Force, Judy Chicago, Llyn Foulkes, Gronk, Suzanne Lacy, Gary Panter, Bruce Nauman, Masami Teraoka, and others too numerous to list.

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987:

Art in the Pursuit of Social Change

University Art Museum, California State University Long Beach.

September 10 to December 11, 2011

A showing of over 100 historic posters and flyers published by Peace Press, a now defunct Los Angeles print shop that served the local and national needs of alternative cultural and political groups and organizations. Vallen had six artworks in the exhibit, and four additional graphic works in the exhibit catalog. Artists in the show include the likes of Robert Crumb, Skip Williamson, and Rupert García. The exhibit was part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 – 1980, the largest collaborative art project in Southern California history.


Mexican-American Artists: 1960s and Beyond

Forest Lawn Museum.

September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012.

Vallen showed two oil paintings created especially for this major exhibit exploring Chicano art. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photos from some forty artists. Co-exhibitors include Judy Baca; Barbara Carrasco; Margaret García; Wayne Healy; Leo Limón; Frank Romero; Patssi Valdez, and many others.

2010 Lectures on David Alfaro Siqueiros

Multiple venues.

Sept. Oct. and Nov. 2010

Vallen delivered three separate lectures on the Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros; “A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts.” (Sept. 18th at the Center For The Arts in Eagle Rock, California. Panel discussion sponsored by the Autry Museum and organized by the José Vera Gallery). “Siqueiros & the Mexican School of Social Realism.” (Oct. 23 lecture at the José Vera Gallery). “David Alfaro Siqueiros & the ‘Bloc of Painters’ – American Social Realism in the 1930s.” (Nov. 6 lecture at the Mexican Cultural Institute in L.A., California).

Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – Group Show

Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Sept. 17 – Nov. 22, 2009

Vallen exhibited two oil paintings in this group show of nine artists, featuring the prints of Mexican master printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada.

Man’s Inhumanity To Man – Group Show

Brand Library Gallery & Art Center Glendale, California.

April 4 – May 8, 2009

Vallen exhibited a large pastel drawing of indigenous Guatemalans in the exhibit that examined human rights violations from around the world–the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and repression in Central America.

War & Empire: The Art of Democracy – Group show

Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, California.

Sept. 4 – Nov. 4, 2008.

Vallen exhibited his large 2003 pencil drawing titled “Not Our Children – Not Their Children.” The artwork was created just as the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing and invasion of Iraq was starting. The exhibit theme was the political situation in the United States during the run up to the 2008 presidential elections. Exhibitors included Fernando Botero, Sandow Birk, Guy Colwell, Art Hazelwood, Bella Feldman, William T. Wiley, and others.

Fundamental – Traveling European exhibit. Group show with multiple venues

Sept. 2007 – June 2008

Vallen exhibited his large acrylic painting on canvas titled ‘A People Under Command’ at the exhibit that explored the prickly subject of fundamental religious intolerance at the turn of the 21st century. The German magazine ZIVIL did a spread on the painting, calling it “an outstanding example of political art” and “a prophetic vision for the era of George W. Bush.” The exhibit toured four European cities; Manchester, England. Madrid, Spain. Berlin, Germany and Leeds, England.

“Sid & Nancy” 30TH Anniversary DVD release

Vallen interviewed for DVD bonus featurette, “For the Love of Punk”

October 2007

Based on Vallen’s participation as an artist in the early LA punk scene, he was invited to appear in the short documentary that was an extra feature on the disc. “Sid & Nancy” was directed by Alex Cox and the film told the story of Sex Pistols’ anti-hero Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

At Work: The Art of California Labor

Pico House Gallery, Los Angeles, California.

June – Aug. 2006

Vallen created an oil painting for this group exhibit, a portrait of a female Asian worker. The show focused on the subject of California’s rich labor history since the turn of the 20th century. The artworks of some fifty artists were in the exhibit, including works by Diego Rivera, Tina Modotti, Dorothea Lange, and Malaquias Montoya.

Don’t Talk About Religion or Politics

Group exhibit curated for Avenue 50 Studio, Highland Park, California.

Jan – Feb. 2006

Vallen curated and exhibited in this group show for Avenue 50 Studio. The exhibition presented artworks with controversial spiritual and political themes. The show included artists John Paul Thornton, Poli Marichal, Gwyneth Leech, and Sergio Hernandez.

Conflict: Works on Paper

Juried group exhibit. Brand Library Art Galleries, Glendale, California.

Dec. 05 – Jan, 2006

Vallen submitted two pencil drawing entries that won awards for excellence at the Thirty-Fourth Annual National Exhibition at the L.C. Brand Gallery in Glendale, California.

Dia de los Muertos: The Journey Home

Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago, Illinois.

Sept – Dec, 2005

The museum selected Vallen’s oil on wood painting, Dia de los Muertos, for inclusion in its annual Day of the Dead art exhibit.

YO! What Happened To Peace?

International Traveling Exhibit, multiple venues, 2004.

Vallen contributed six different prints and drawings to this traveling exhibition of antiwar prints curated by artist, John Carr. The exhibit was shown at multiple venues in L.A., Boston, New York, Chicago, as well as openings in Tokyo, Japan, Milan, Italy, and several Scandinavian cities. Some of Vallen’s works were also published in the accompanying exhibition catalogue.

Mark Vallen: More Than A Witness

Solo exhibit. A Shenere Velt Gallery, West Los Angeles, California.

July – Aug, 2004

Vallen’s retrospective exhibit encompassing thirty years of work. Respected art scholar and author Paul Von Blum wrote the exhibit catalog. The LA Times Magazine reported on the show in their Aug. 22nd edition.

Wild In The Streets

Autry National Center/Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, California.

June 18th 2004

Vallen’s early 1977 punk rock portraits and drawings were exhibited at this one day special exhibit to coincide with the museum’s “Wild in the Streets” punk rock summer concert. Drawings by Raymond Pettibon were also displayed.

Peace Signs: The Anti-War Movement Illustrated

Gustavo Gili Publisher. Released Nov 2004

Vallen’s drawing “Not Our Children, Not Their Children” was selected for publication in this collection of antiwar artworks compiled by Spain’s leading graphic design and architectural publisher, Gustavo Gili.

The Art of Punk

Kantor Gallery, West Los Angeles, California.

February – March 2003

Vallen presented his artworks from the heyday of LA’s late 1970‘s punk rock scene at the premiere exhibition for the Kantor Gallery. His original drawings and cover illustrations for SLASH magazine were exhibited alongside works by Raymond Pettibon and others.

Just Another Poster?: Chicano Graphic Arts in California

Traveling museum show, multiple venues.

June 2001 – Sept 2003

Vallen’s silkscreen prints were included in this exhibit of Chicano poster art collected from the late 1960s to the present. Fifty different artists are represented in the exhibition including Rupert Garcia, Gilbert “Magú” Luján, Diane Gamboa, Yreina Cervantez, Richard Duardo, Carlos Almaraz, and many others. The show opened at UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History, then traveled to the Oakland Museum of California, the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, the Jersey City Museum, and finally the Crocker Art Museum and La Raza/Galeria Posada in Sacramento California.

The Path of Resistance – group exhibition

Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York.

Nov. 2000 – Jan. 2001.

Two of Vallen’s serigraphs were included in this exhibit of contemporary protest art. The exhibition traced 40 years of socially critical and politically charged art. Organized by Joshua Siegal and Susan Kismaric, the show was itself part of MoMA’s “Open Ends,” an exhibit cycle marking the millennium that consisted of eleven different exhibits of art from the 1960s to the 1990s.

High Performance Magazine for the New Arts – 1992

Three of Vallen’s pencil drawings condemning racial violence were included in the Special Summer Edition of High Performance magazine, published in the aftermath of the April 29th “Rodney King” riots that swept Los Angeles.

The Decline of Western Civilization – Movie credits/graphics 1981.

Here is something you don’t usually find listed on an artist’s oeuvre. Vallen produced the subtitles and credits for the Penelope Spheeris documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization. Vallen also created some of the graphics used to promote the movie that focused on LA’s original punk rock movement.

Slash Magazine – Cover Illustration, 1980

Founded in 1977 Slash was the first punk publication of Los Angeles. Vallen created the black and white pencil drawing that served as cover art for the very last issue of the publication, which hit newsstands in 1980. This particular edition introduced unsuspecting Americans to hitherto unknown bands like Adam and the Ants and Crass. The drawing “Come Back To Haunt You” helped spawn the Mohawk haircut craze in LA.

L.A. Weekly publishes Cover Illustration – 1980

Vallen’s serigraphic print and street poster “Nuclear War? There goes my Career!” is published as the cover art for the newspaper. A mawkish Situationist inspired parody, the artwork addressed the rising fear of nuclear war at the close of the 20th century. New York’s Museum of Modern Art would exhibit Vallen’s poster in its 2000 exhibit “Path of Resistance.”

L.A. Weekly publishes Cover Illustration – 1980

Vallen’s serigraphic print and street poster “Whatever happened to the Future?” is published as the cover art for the newspaper. The artwork, inspired by the punk scene, illustrated an article on the sense of hopelessness and malaise then gripping the nation. The Geffen Contemporary MOCA would exhibit Vallen’s poster in its exhibit “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981,” which ran from Oct. 1, 2011 to Feb. 13, 2012.

Slash Magazine – Cover Illustration, 1979

Slash was the monthly manifesto of angry refusal. Founded in 1977 it was the first punk rock magazine of Los Angeles. Vallen’s black and white pencil drawing of Sue Tissue, singer for the Suburban Lawns band, served as the cover art for the Oct. 1979 edition. That issue introduced innocent and dewy-eyed Americans to nightmarish punk bands like The Misfits and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Vallen’s drawing of Tissue was later published in the 1983 book “Hardcore California: A history of Punk and New Wave” by Peter Belsito and Bob Davis.