In 1937, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy bombed Guernica, a town in Northern Spain’s Basque Country, at the request of Francisco Franco’s nationalist faction during the Spanish Civil War. The aerial bombing killed hundreds of civilians, though the death toll remains disputed. It also moved Pablo Picasso to create Guernica, the large oil painting with anti-war sentiments that many consider to be his magnum opus.
Almost a century later, the horrors of war inspired another artist to get to work: Drawing from Picasso’s Guernica, San Diego-based painter Andres Valencia created an abstract scene called Invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. In the top left corner, a single eye cries onto a Ukrainian flag. In the center, a menacing soldier with a Russian flag armband clutches a machine gun.
“Andres was in his bedroom as I was watching and listening to the news about the war in Ukraine,” the artist’s mother, Elsa Valencia, tells Forbes’ Natasha Gural. “... When I walked in I saw a small 12-inch by 9-inch canvas sketched and colored with marker. I asked him about the painting. He said it was the ‘invasion of Ukraine.’ I was absolutely moved.”
Why did Valencia’s mother casually walk into his bedroom? That would be because the artist is 10 years old. During their conversation, Elsa Valencia offered her fifth-grade son a larger canvas, and he got to work.
But Valencia is no stranger to selling his artwork: He made history last December by being the youngest artist to ever show at Art Miami, where he sold his entire 17-painting collection in three days for prices ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, according to the New York Post’s Jacquelynn Powers Maurice. The buyers now in possession of a Valencia original include Jordan Belfort, Brooke Shields, Channing Tatum and Sofía Vergara.
In June, Valencia brought his art to New York for a solo exhibition at SoHo’s Chase Contemporary gallery. All 35 works on display sold, bringing in amounts between $50,000 to $125,000, the New York Times’ Alex Hawgood reports. That same month, Valencia’s Ms. Cube, a colorful, Cubist depiction of an elegant woman, sold at auction for about $160,000 at Hong Kong’s Phillips de Pury.
“I’m so happy to sell my paintings,” Valencia tells the New York Post. “I’m not emotionally attached because I know I can always make another one.”
Valencia got his start selling watercolors for around $20 to family friends, per the Times. Bernie Chase, owner of Chase Contemporary, was one of them. He raised his offer on one work to $100, and Andres countered with a request for $5,000. Chase obliged.
Along with the potential, Valencia has the work ethic: He aims to paint every day. “I paint in little pieces,” Andres tells the New York Post. “I work on it for an hour or two. Then I go do something else. I come back to it the next day and keep adding more.”
The young artist says his work is influenced by Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, George Condo, Salvador Dalí and Amedeo Modigliani. In the studio, he likes to listen to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Freddie Mercury, he tells the New York Post.
Between his cultural influences and prodigious talent, Valencia is something of an old soul. At the same time, the New York Post writes, “he’s also still a kid who collects GI Joe figures and plays with his friends after school. In fact, he was 20 minutes late for his Post interview because his mom took him to a toy store in between interviews.”
Pokémon and Click N’ Play army action figures have also inspired Valencia, he tells the Times. Perhaps they are connected to his thematic focus on soldiers and war—and his interest in the history of warfare.
“I watch documentaries because I want to learn. All wars are bad. I also learn about soldiers and what they did during the war,” Valencia tells Forbes, speaking about Invasion of Ukraine. “... I think that art tells stories and I am telling the story of the Ukrainian people and what Russia is doing to them. My painting is telling a story that cannot be forgotten.”