An artistic journey from Ecuador to Cleveland Heights

Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador Rafael Valdivieso was not like most of his family members who pursued occupations in politics and engineering. Valdivieso had an undeniable passion for painting.

“Born in a house with politics, every day was different,” he says. “I didn’t follow in the traditional careers. My parents knew that I was someone who was perfect for the arts.”

<span class="content-image-text">Rafael Valdivieso</span>Rafael ValdiviesoNow established as one of Cleveland's fine artists, Valdivieso’s most recent works are on display at the Spotlight Gallery in Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights through Saturday, March 12.

Professionals, artists, and families were in attendance during the well-attended and energetic opening. One of Valdivieso's larger works sold within the first hour.

Rita Gochberg, an interior designer and Shaker Heights resident attended the opening.

“This is my second show of his, I became a fan right away,” she says. “I love how his style is very particular. Every part of each painting could be its own painting by itself.”

While he has definitely arrived, Valdivieso's journey from Ecuador to Cleveland provides much of the inspiration for his creative process and his art.

<span class="content-image-text">Paint and ink on canvas</span>Paint and ink on canvasFinding a Calling

Following mandatory service in the Ecuadorian Army, Valdivieso first embarked on a journey to become a Catholic priest. He joined the seminary and studied religion in Ecuador and Peru. But after two years, a newfound spiritual epiphany made it clear that his true calling was in the arts.

“I know my gift. I had to make sure it was the right time to follow my gift,” he says. “This is the reason to live. The art was the voice, and not the church.”

Valdivieso left the seminary and enrolled in classes at Facultad de Artes at La Universidad Nacional in Quito and earned degrees in painting and sculpture before becoming a publicist and graphic designer at the Instituto Latinoamericano de Diseño de Artes Graficas, also in Quito.

After his stints in the academic world, Valdivieso traveled to Israel to hone his art. While there he met his soon-to-be-wife Iwona, who hailed from Cleveland. The two returned to Ecuador. A few years later, they decided to move to Cleveland in order to be closer to Iwona’s family. They have called Cleveland Heights home since 2000.

A life’s journey showcased

Upon arriving in Cleveland, Valdivieso continued to focus on his art. “My black and white series, it was the beginning” he recalls of his earliest works in the United States. Valdivieso continued to flourish in Cleveland’s art scene, participating in numerous solo and collaborative area exhibitions.

Valdivieso’s recent works include small clay sculptures and papier-mache masks, while others are large acrylic, oil, and ink illustrations on paper and canvas. They burst with color and evoke romanticism, while his distinctive details include hypnotizing elements and thoughtful expressions. Each stroke of his brush, each line that is drawn is deliberate and calculated. The viewer discovers new intricacies each time she revisits one of Valdivieso's works.

His pieces also depict happiness, sorrow, and contemplation. Each composition is different, often including his trademark whimsical representations of faces, creatures and wilderness executed with undeniable creative talent and meticulous control of his tools.

It all culminates to showcase Valdivieso's life journey, including notably, moving from his family in Ecuador and starting a new life in America.

“Some people always see the drama,” he says. “I have great people [in Cleveland] and my friends have given great support. I have found my second family. It’s rough, but it’s evolution.”

<span class="content-image-text">Clay sculpture, wall piece</span>Clay sculpture, wall piece"Mesmerizing"

Over the past 12 years, Valdivieso has lent his talents to the creation of larger-than-life costumes for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Parade the Circle. “You can see the whole process, the change of the art,” he says of his work for the museum.

Similar works were showcased in 2015 during Pandemonium, Cleveland Public Theater’s yearly over-the-top bash, where volunteers danced through the crowds wearing Valdivieso’s surreal creations of masks and full body costumes.

Combing a year’s worth of his newly created artwork, last fall Valdivieso also presented “Mesmerizing,” a solo exhibition at Negative Space Gallery that included more than 20 large acrylic and oil paintings on canvas and clay and papier-mache sculptures. The show aimed to challenge the viewer regarding the inner workings of Valdivieso's mind as well as their own.

“The things that everybody sees are different,” he explains. “It’s hard to describe when it is so natural, it’s what I really love to do.”

In the meantime, Valdivieso is constantly working and exploring new subjects. Every surface of his home studio is covered with captivating works of art. “I have to be more simple, more quiet, more all around, try to maintain the freedom, the romanticism of life,” he says. His hope for his future is to create more murals and other forms of large public art.

“That is my dream, like a fish in water.”

Photos - Rebecca Groynom

Rebecca Groynom
Rebecca Groynom

About the Author: Rebecca Groynom

Rebecca Groynom is a freelance writer, photographer, and resident of Cleveland Heights. In addition to writing for Fresh Water Cleveland, she has been published in several scientific journals, and her photography has been showcased in exhibitions throughout the US.