Valeri Larko

The landscape that attracts me is that of the city, or more specifically, the fringes of the city, abandoned and decaying structures, urban waterways, and graffiti laced walls, where I find grit and beauty in equal measure. Each site has its own story to tell and through patient observation acquired over months of paintng on location, I work to bring that story to life and to capture the visual poetry of these places.


Artist Statement

The landscape I am most compelled to paint is the urban fringe with its jumble of rusting industrial sites, aging infrastructure and funky waterways that can be found on the outskirts of our cities. It is here among the ruins of our contemporary culture that I uncover stories about the everyday world around us, stories that reflect how we have changed and continue to change the environment.

All of my paintings are done on location. I spend hours roaming around an area until I find something that resonates with me. Once I do, I set up my easel and return to a site many times. A large painting can take up to three months to complete. The process of painting on location over a long period of time is crucial to my working method because it allows me to form a deeper connection to a particular place through careful observation and personal interaction with the people I meet there. While talking to people in the area, I learn a lot about the sites that I am painting. I find that this interaction, both with people and the environment, makes the method by which I work as important as the final painting.

Although my paintings are very detailed, I am less concerned with reproducing an exact documentation of a scene and more interested in capturing the spirit of a place.

In 2004, I moved from my long-time residence in New Jersey to New Rochelle, New York, and since then I have been painting in the outer boroughs of New York City, primarily in the Bronx but also in Brooklyn and Queens.

Sign Of The Times Series

Sign of the Times takes its name from a series of billboards that I’ve painted in and around the Bronx. The title also refers to the strange era of planetary and political upheaval in which we currently live. 


My fascination with billboards began during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 when I noticed the increasing appearance of blank billboards popping up in the Bronx and beyond. Since then, some of those billboards have remained blank while others have hawked both religious and anti-science messages as well as a plethora of advertisements for personal injury lawyers. I’ve juxtaposed these often dire warnings with the recent proliferation of more inspirational signage. Additionally, the blank billboards offer the viewer an emotional respite from the incessant din of 21st-century messaging. That so many of these blank billboards are also beautiful, is an added bonus. The small billboard panels are meant to be exhibited in a grid. The larger billboard paintings hang on their own. 

Gallery 1 

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New York Series

This gallery contains images that I’ve painted since moving to New Rochelle, NY. in 2004. The outer boroughs of New York City are full of fascinating sites and I continue to be attracted to the urban waterways, infrastructure and relics from our not too distant industrial past.

The areas that I paint are in flux, there’s an ever-changing nature to our urban/industrial centers that I find compelling. I become a witness to this landscape, capturing contemporary ruins, before they are lost and new structures built over them. I’m reminded of the earlier explorers who would go off to exotic locales to paint and sketch the ruins of past civilizations, except in my case I am interested in the ruins and structures that are part of the every day world around me.

Gallery 1 (Recent Works)

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Gallery 2 (2013-2017)

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Gallery 3 (2009-2012)

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Gallery 4 (older works)

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New York Series

This gallery contains studies from my NY series. Because a large painting can take me up to three months to complete, I usually do a color study first to help me decide on the composition and what size canvas to stretch. This gives me the opportunity to work out my ideas ahead of time before I commit to several months of painting on location.

For these studies I used a variety of supports, sometimes using small boards or canvases or gessoed watercolor paper. Most of the studies were the basis for larger paintings, although occasionally I don’t get to do a larger version. Such was the case with “Factory Interior”. This painting was the one that got away. I did the study over several weekends while spending the bulk of the week completing a larger painting close by. One Sunday when I was considering a second view of the site, a guard saw me and asked what I was doing. I showed him the completed study and said I wanted to paint a second view. He then informed me that I would need permission from the owners of the property. Permission was denied and a year later this fascinating building on Zerega Ave in the Bronx was demolished. Now it's a parking lot for school buses.


Another set of small paintings, the gouache and watercolor ones, are meant to stand on their own. I do these while sitting in my car in winter. Sometimes I go back to the site in the warm weather and do a larger version, but more often I paint one view and I’m done. 

Gallery 1 (recent works)

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Gallery 2 (2006-2011)

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Bronx Golf Center

The urban landscapes in this gallery were all painted on location at an abandoned golf center in the North Bronx. I painted my first landscape here in the fall of 2013. To get into the site, I pushed my painting gear under the fence and squeezed through a break in the locked gate. I did one small painting that year but due to a detective catching me in the act of slipping through the gate and telling me I wasn’t supposed to be on the property, I did not to go back. He told me he’d looked the other way that day, but suggested it would be better if I didn’t return. Luckily that painting was almost finished.

Fast forward to February 2016, I was driving down RT 95 and caught a glimpse of a colorful structure. Later, when I explored the area, I discovered it was the same golf center that I’d painted in 2013. This time around, I found a break on the other side of the site, which allowed me access to a number of buildings I hadn’t explored before.

The Bronx Golf Center is 12 acres in total. This once vibrant family entertainment center now contains crumbling old structures that nature is slowly reclaiming: remnants of a miniature golf course, a driving range, and batting cages that are disappearing under creeping vines and weeds.

Since being abandoned, the golf center has become a refuge for graffiti artists, homeless people, and feral cats. Recently, suspicious fires destroyed several of the buildings and the property owners have repaired the fence, making access to the site difficult, if not impossible. 

Rumor has it that this site will someday be replaced by a shopping mall and with that another piece of Bronx history will be paved over and disappear.  It is, after all, what humans have been doing for centuries; we build, we destroy and we rebuild. Still it’s hard not to mourn the loss of a fun site that once gave many area residents joy. Every day sees a new condo or strip mall constructed, and too often, the architecture is cookie cutter and boring.

One of the things I noticed while spending the past year and a half painting at the golf center is the abundance of birds, butterflies, geese, raccoons and other animals that thrived there.  The overgrown setting had become a defacto nature preserve.  Surrounded by wildflowers and birds, it was easy to forget that I was painting in the midst of the busy overbuilt city.

Gallery 1 (paintings)

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A Bronx Block is a series of paintings of a former meat processing plant (Ferris Stahl-Meyer) in the Bronx that has become a graffiti mecca. For the past ten years, the company's president, Guillermo O. Gonzalez, has encouraged local graffiti artists to use the walls of the factory as their canvas, which led to the site being used for the filming of music videos, fashion shoots, and by skateboarders, photographers, graffiti artists and me. The property was sold, so it's just a matter of time before this very dynamic place in the Bronx is demolished.

Ferris Stahl-Meyer has been in the Bronx for many decades and was famous for their all-beef hotdogs that at one time were sold at all of the New York area baseball stadiums. A major redevelopment of the area is planned that will totally transform the neighborhood, and while many of the changes are welcome, something magical will be lost. Where others may see blight, I see the creative energy and vibrancy that are important parts of this community. Gonzalez left an enduring legacy by encouraging local artists to showcase their art on his building. He saw their art as a positive force, not vandalism. It is a testament to his vision that so many people still come to shoot videos and photographs a year after the company moved.

I began painting on location there in the spring of 2012 and plan on finishing the series by the end of 2013. Being on site while painting this series has given me a unique opportunity to experience the day-to-day life of this city block and to be inspired by the many artists who have worked there. But more importantly, I am extending the creative collaboration between patron, community and artist that is such a vital aspect of urban life.

Salvage Yard Series

I spent over 5 years painting on location at an active salvage yard in Hackettstown, NJ. I did the bulk of these paintings from 1999-2004. I am amazed at how much stuff winds up at the dump. These paintings took on a life of their own, as they changed from fairly straightforward depictions of mountains of junk to large abstract close-ups of crushed debris waiting to be recycled. Spending that much time at an active salvage yard and seeing how much waste we create, has given me a whole different perspective on consumer goods and the built in obsolescence that helps drive our economy.

Gallery 1 (paintings)

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Gallery 2 (paintings)

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Gallery 3 (studies)

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Gallery 4 (studies)

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Urban & Industrial Paintings

Images in this gallery are of earlier oils on linen. I often approach this subject matter with a sense of irony and humor. My decision to paint one thing instead of another is often based on an inner dialogue with that subject or scene. The yellow stacks of a factory, transformed by sunlight, may remind me of a cathedral. Two rusted tanks take on a human quality as they lean together in an ancient embrace. It is this inner play with my subjects that engages me in the physical world.

Gallery 1 (early paintings 1)

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Gallery 2 (early paintings 2)

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Urban & Industrial Early Works On Paper

All of my paintings, both large and small, are painted on location. Initially I started the works on gessoed watercolor paper as studies for larger paintings. Gradually I began to see these studies as separate works independent of the larger pieces. While they still may function as ideas for larger paintings, many times I am happy with the small work and I don't feel a need to create a more finished piece. The small works have a looseness and spontaneity that make them a lot of fun to paint.

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Valeri Larko painting at the abandoned Bronx Golf Center, 2017. Photo credit: Amy Regalia. 



Sugarlift Gallery, NYC:

Email:   Phone: 917-370-5030 

Contact:Tel: +1.646 267 1374


Where I teach: Visual Arts Center of New Jersey:

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© 2020 by Valeri Larko. Set up by jorb

Corner of Boone Ave & 173rd St. (study) 2014

oil/gessoed watercolor paper 14” x 22”