Creature Comforts

Roy Wasson Valle, 30, has been showing his colorful prints and sculptures of cartoonish beasts at 515 Gallery for a couple of years now, but you don’t have to be a First Friday regular to see his work. Just keep an eye on torsos across town – Valle’s surreal animal illustrations have spawned a line of tee shirts, which he sells at MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Row, and online at Not content to stick to one medium, the ASU sculpture grad – who grew up in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Prescott, Arizona – has dabbled in film and is lately turning two-dimensional images into limited edition toys, tapping the urban vinyl trend that’s blurring the boundaries between collectible art and common playthings. Until the day comes when he can call himself a full-time toy and tee shirt mogul, though, Wasson Valle keeps a creative day job, as a professional sign maker for Trader Joe’s in Tempe.

What is that creature on those tees, anyway? His name is Raul, and he’s a skeleton bear wearing a bear costume.

Critters creepy and cute: That's definitely something that I try to make them. I do like the aspect of them being a little bit creepy and disconcerting, but not enough to where you're not drawn to them.

Another dimension: After I started taking printmaking, I started making prints that one could cut out and start to make three-dimensional things with. I haven't gone as far as I'd like with that, but I even see the tee shirts as being part of that, because it's being worn instead of put on a wall.

Taking shape: This is kind of an ongoing project right now that has to do with my roommate Zach. His game is called the Kingdom of Loathing []. And we've been working on a project where I would take his designs -- all of these are basically stick figures -- and I've translated them into three-dimensional forms.

The joys of Super Sculpey: It's a really good material to work with. So it's easy to correct, and you can sand it and cut it apart, and then rebake it.

Signs o' the times: When I decided that all I wanted to do was signs, and I would quit if they had said no, then I wouldn't be working at Trader Joe's anymore. But they said okay, and at that time, the company itself, from Pasadena, decided we need to make signs more important and have this special feel.

Kiddy culture shock: I remember writing my friends in Mexico letters explaining the lunch system [here in the States], because that was totally foreign to me. In Mexico, we would go to school earlier, from 8 to 2:30. And you'd have recess and you could get snacks and candies, but you didn't have lunch. You'd go home and then get your big meal of the day.

Toys for grown-ups: It's no longer a toy -- it's just a plastic sculpture, and that's what you're buying now. And I find that interesting, because what really is the difference if it's made out of plastic or it's made out of metal? You know, a sculptor puts out an edition of sculptures, maybe there's even 200, they don't make them themselves. They have a shop do it for them, but they sign them, and they're all numbered. So going back to metal [for collectible toys] would be just as acceptable, I think. It's not like there's a long tradition of toy art right now, in this form.

Eye candy: I'm not gonna make a claim that the artwork that I make is necessarily deep or has a lot of meaning to it. A lot of it is just fun to look at. A lot of it I do want to say things, but there are lots of people saying a lot of things.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig