We had the good fortune of connecting with Diego Vallejos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Diego, what inspires you?
Growing up abused and impoverished in Costa Rica, I would spend as much time outside as possible, within the rainforest surrounding my tin-roof house. Inspired by natural life, free in their environment, I began to paint my surroundings as an escape into my own world of art. Moving oil around the canvas feels amazing, and my work often strikes emotions connected to a special place, one that speaks of adventure, or home. It is there that I focus on a subject, if the space so calls for one to inhabit it, and glaze each new layer adding light, life, and the inkling of a memory. The paintbrush, harnessing the pain of my youth, seeks not to erase it, but by overlay, works to create new meanings. Through my art, I want people to see not only that life is precious and should be cherished, but that there is also hope for the forgotten.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
From humid tropics to sun-scorched desert, I am a Costa Rican native now residing in Arizona. I’ll never forget when my dad gave me my first set of oil paints when I was 10 years old. When I ran out of canvas and couldn’t afford to buy more, I painted murals over all the walls in my house. A self-taught oil painter, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I became a US citizen that I had an opportunity to take my first art class at the local community college. However, to make ends meet, I became a truck driver, and after 7 years over the road, my art called me back. I returned to college to pursue my passion in painting, learning new techniques in a variety of art and drawing classes. I specialize in wildlife and landscapes, but what really sets me apart as an artist is my work in memorial paintings.
Memorial paintings include cremains (ashes) of beloved pets or people who have passed. I create the oil myself by hand using different tools to finely incorporate the physical cremains in the paint such that they are not texturally visible (unless requested). Using favorite photos or portraits, I work with clients to design the painting and achieve the most aesthetic presentation.
Dedicating my life to professional art definitely was not easy. In fact, I officially started my business, Pura Vida Art, in March of 2020. I had several exhibitions and events lined up, and they all fell through with the lockdowns. Business was at a complete standstill and it was hard to survive. As fate has it, this forced me to expand my skillset, and during the pandemic I took my fine art to the human body as I took up an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist! Transferring my drawing and painting skills to tattooing was seamless and felt natural; I just needed to learn to use the machine. I am now a recognized tattoo artist working out of Reinkarnate as well as a painter. I have gravitated towards memorial tattoos for pets and people also, executing clean scripts, symbols, and animal tattoos.
Throughout this rocky time as I tried to start a business at the height of a pandemic, I learned to focus on continuing to develop my skills as an artist rather than focus on worrying. I chose this out of passion after all, and in the end, that will need to be a key driver of long term success. Currently I’m learning not to listen to the voices that bring me down. People are always gonna talk, but I gotta be true to myself. I want people to know that my art is full of hope, and I am honored whenever someone entrusts me with such an intimate and personal commitment such as a tattoo or a memorial painting.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am a lover of parks and the outdoors, so most of my favorite spots are outside the city. My dad is visiting the U.S. for the first time this upcoming October actually. My itinerary includes first taking him up north to camp at Lake Powell and see the Grand Canyon. Then we will go south to iconic Tombstone and Kartchner Cavers State Park. Of course, we plan to spend some time in my East Valley home and hike up the Superstition Mountains.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My dad, Melzi Vallejos, who bought me my first set of oil paints as a child and always supported my artistic journey
Instagram: @puravidaart (paintings only) and @diego_art28 (featuring tattoos)