Experimenting with light, photography and art has helped Valentin Walker – aka Alias 2.0, find his signature style. Editor Marissa Carruthers finds out more. Photography by Enric Català.
Valentin Walker – aka Alias 2.0 – waits until the sun has almost sunk for the day before he starts work. On the count of three he steps to the left, scribbling what seem to be imaginary drawings in the air as he goes. He circles back to the camera that has been capturing his movements to see the results – a sequence of patterns hanging in the air.
“The lights make such a magical effect,” the 28-year-old French artist says, recalling how he started experimenting with light painting while in South America in 2010. “I fell in love with it straight away.”
Inspired by the urban environment that surrounded him, Walker started playing with his backdrops, adding a touch of the surreal to them with his art. “I like taking photos of landscapes and streets,” he says. “I discovered this art and started to draw in the spaces to make a picture. It really is magical in natural surroundings.”
The origins of the art form – created by moving a light in the air while taking a long exposure photograph – can be traced back to 1889 when Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny created the first known light painting photograph, ‘Pathological Walk From in Front’, by attaching incandescent bulbs to the joints of an assistant.
A series of other artists and photographers continued to experiment with the technique, with Pablo Picasso even getting in on the action when Gjon Mili photographed him in 1949. Mili showed him a selection of his light painting photos of figure skaters, immediately inspiring him. The artist picked up a penlight and started drawing in the air, captured by Mili on camera. The result became known as Pablo Picasso’s Light Drawings.
“I freestyle and can’t see what I’m doing when I paint,” says Walker. “It’s really an expression of the moment; what I’m feeling at that time, what there is around me.” He recalls when he was in Kep for a stunning sunset. “The sky was all these incredible colours – blues, oranges, yellows and white. I used the same colours for the painting and it looked amazing with the sky and light.”
With his roots in street art, Walker took up painting a decade ago, tagging the streets in his hometown near Marseille. “Step-by-step, I became interested in art in general,” he recalls. “I discovered contemporary art and modern art; lots of different kinds of art. I’m self-taught and learned on the streets. I started to paint on canvas and then did exhibitions.”
Determined to expand his skillset, he hit the road, travelling to South America, then North Africa and Asia. In early 2016, he was invited to take part in the second Cambodia Urban Art Festival, which enjoyed its third outing last month, and has called the country home ever since.
“For inspiration, Cambodia is interesting,” says Walker, who also DJs under the name of DJ Watt’s Up. The Kingdom’s influence on his work is evident in the Khmer patterns he incorporates into many of his pieces. “I’m really interested in kbach, the patterns found on walls in pagodas. I like them because they are between abstract and realistic design so they are a good source for me because I want to create something modern yet traditional.”
As well as his light painting, Walker’s work can be seen across the capital at venues such as Toul Tom Poung’s Alchemy and Oishi. Describing his style as a fusion between graffiti and contemporary art, his art features strong geometric shapes and patterns, melding form and colour in an abstract way.
“With abstract art, there is no real meaning, so everyone can feel what they want from a painting,” he says. “In Asia, I often see people confused by this; they don’t understand. They ask me what it is, what does it means, why have I done that? I say, “Just feel. Feel free to live in the painting. Are you happy or sad? It’s emotional art”. I really want to develop this kind of expression here. It’s at the beginning and the younger generation are great; I’m very optimistic.”
As well as inspiring his abstract work, Cambodia has also found a place in his light painting, with Walker’s designs often featuring patterns from the magic yantra tattoos that stretch back to the Khmer Empire and are believed to offer protection to those they mark. He fuses this with the Arabic art and calligraphy he discovered during his time in Morocco.
“It really is truly poetic when you marry together the lights and the landscape,” he says.
Alias 2.0’s work can be seen at his exhibition Feel Free, featuring canvas paintings at Plantation in March. He has also collaborated with Amboh Espadrille to create custom-made shoes featuring his designs. For more information, visit Alias2point0.com.