Based in Miami, Alex Yanes describes his art as “original, handcrafted and one of a kind”. He was commissioned to create 3D mural on the walls of New York's Coney Island based on ustwo games’s latest release: Monument Valley 2.
Both draw inspiration from geometric shapes and bright colours, and focus on visual attractiveness.
Monument Valley 2 differs from the game’s previous version in that it has a new essential element to the familiar puzzle solving dynamic: a parent/child relationship which forces the player to re-evaluate his strategies. This specific bond between a parent and a child greatly inspired Alex, who received the help of his eight-year-old daughter Marley on this project.
The piece was commissioned to commemorate the launch of the game and Alex wanted to create a bright, happy and fun piece which focused on the bond between the mother and daughter. He used colours and designs similar to those seen in the game and referenced key elements such as the Totem or the palm trees used in a specific level. His biggest challenge was to create an illusion of movement in a piece not able to move. In collaboration with media network Cycle, Alex’s journey was documented for a short film. Watch it below.
We talk to Alex about the creative process behind the artwork and his daughter’s influence on the piece.
Neil Bennett: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Alex Yanes: “My work comes, I think, from growing up in Miami. I was really into skateboarding and we didn’t have skate parks, so I started building ramps with my dad. He taught me how to use power tools and my grandfather was super handy as well. I learned woodworking from them and from there, art was something I always did. I won an art contest in 1st grade, I drew the Easter bunny on a skateboard with a yellow Sony headset. My art teacher entered my drawing into the fair – and I won. I had done something artistic and received positive recognition. I stuck with it and it was something my friends couldn’t do.
“My mum is a teacher and one of my earliest memories was when I was in Kindergarten, she was trying to teach me to color in the lines and I couldn’t get it. You know, things come full circle, and now I’m making art and Marley goes to the same elementary school that I did. Marley even has the same first art teacher I ever had, Mrs. Perry. Thirty years later, my art is a mix of all of those things – creating and building stuff.”
NB: How did you get involved in the project?
AY: “This whole project started with an email — Cycle reached out to me and explained the project. They connected me with ustwo in London and to be honest, I was thrilled that they even knew my work. Right away, I was ecstatic about it. I had phone conversations about my creative process, and we went back and forth with drawing and sketches as we were in two countries. We went to work and really, it was a great project from beginning to end. It was fun and I got to make what I wanted to make. There wasn’t any bumping of heads, and it was really a wonderful experience.”
NB: What appealed to you about the game?
AY: “I really don’t play video games or app games because I’m always creating with my hands and making things. I don’t take the time to sit and exercise my brain. But right off the bat, my daughter loved it, and once I started playing with her, I was hooked. I mean the colours, the 3D figures - the game is eye candy.”
NB: What elements and themes from the game did you want to draw out?
AY: “I basically played the game throughout, but there was one level that was clearly Marley’s favourite, so I based the colour scheme for the piece around it and incorporated my 3D cloud shapes that I’m known for. I was told I could project 16-inches out of the wall, and so I gave the piece a huge 3D aspect – it’s one of the furthest my pieces has ever come out of the wall."
NB: Is there anything tricky about representing isometric perspective in a real 3D space?
AY: “Of course, always. A lot of those 3D graphics you see are created with a computer and it’s easier to change a colour, shape or angle digitally, but since I build by hand, there is less room for error. It gets tricky as humans. We are limited to what we can build by hand. But honestly, I’m old school – I don’t even keep a sketchbook. Just handheld carpentry tools and my brain, that’s it.”
NB: What media and materials did you use? What appeals to you about them?
AY: “Run of the mill hardware materials — wood, support beams, acrylic and spray paint. It was my first time putting something in one of my pieces that moved too.”
NB: How did you give the impression of movement in the work?
AY: “I do that by creating flowing lines. I start all my pieces with a centre point and I work my way out to the sides and that’s another reason why the piece is meant to look like it’s floating on the wall.”
NB: How involved was Marley with your creative process on this? And away from ‘work’, do you often work on creative projects together?
AY: “Marley is what the piece is based off of. This is the first time Marley saw the evolution of my piece from beginning to end — from paper to studio to installation. Usually, Marley will come to the studio and see things finished, or she’ll come to exhibitions when it’s set up. Now, I want to start teaching her how much effort it takes. The art studio in the house is her favorite place to be and her favourite way to pass the time. It entertains her for hours and I don’t have to pick up toys.”
NB: Would you like your daughter to become a professional artist like yourself when she grows up?
AY: “Yah! As long as I can hopefully open doors for her and she doesn’t have to struggle like I did, it wasn’t an easy road. There were many more disappointments in the beginning rather than positives. That’s what all creatives go through but that’s what separates the successes from the failures.”
NB: Is there something from what you’ve learned as an artist that you would especially like to pass onto her? (Whether practical skills, an outlook on life, a means of expression or whatever matters to you).
AY: “Yeah — I want Marley to understand she is going to get knocked down in life, and I want her to be resilient. I want her to always get back up. I’m not the best artist, I’m not trying to be a famous artist, but I make art because that’s all I really know. It’s my purpose on earth — it’s part of me and every one of these pieces is part of me. I want Marley to have that outlet to express herself creatively as well. You don’t have to make art for a living to be an artist.”