Local Medford resident, Jessica Valentin’s career as artist, “Ratgrrl” has taken off tremendously from being elected as the first Latinx board of trustees member for the Patchogue Arts Council (PAC), being nominated for Best of Long Island: Artist/Painter, and opening her inclusive art gallery, Muñeca Arthouse.
Before diverging herself into the art community, Valentin’s first job was at Subway. She wore her hair in two large buns while on shift therefore signing notes to her boss, requesting supplies like mustard, etc., with a drawing of her with the buns and a grouchy face. Her boss then proceeded to start calling her “Ratgrrl,” which is now her artist name.
Valentin always told herself if she ever became a graffiti artist, this would be her “tag name.” Once she became the artist that is Ratgrrl, she began using her Puerto Rican roots as an inspiration to add diversity into the Long Island art community.
Opening in July of 2018, the gallery was based in Patchogue until this September where Valentin welcomed people of all ages and backgrounds to the new Blue Point location. One of her new exhibits, Pandemic Protest Blues, showcases work that artists focused on during their quarantine, due to COVID-19. Valentin speaks about her gallery and experiences in the art community as a Latina while touching upon the subjects of inclusion and diversity.
So, you were the first LatinX person on the PAC board? That’s amazing.
Yes and I was psyched. I love Patchogue Arts Council and I love the Museum of Contemporary Art, Long Island. They’re the same kind of entity. The executive director, Beth Giacummo. is amazing. She is excited about bringing different voices to the conversation. We’re long islanders, and there’s segregated areas. I feel like she’s acknowledging that there’s a large Hispanic population in Patchogue, because they’re trying to reach out to the greater of Long Island. I was excited to become a part of it and do fundraising for them and bring some content that I was working on that I couldn’t do at Muñeca Art House. So I did this event that was called “Ratgrrl Vendor Circus” for them.
Ok, can you tell me a little more about that?
Yeah, so I worked at Ripe Art Gallery a few years ago and they’ve since closed and changed. They let me choose vendor artists that I loved, and invite them to come into the gallery space and sell their merchandise. Since I couldn’t do that at Ripe anymore, Patchogue Arts Council lets me get away with that. We try to do them annually or bi annually, and it raises money for the Patchogue Arts Council.
Did you get to do this pre-COVID? I was curious about that.
Oh, yeah. If you’ve ever gone to, you know, art events all over the island, they’re wonderful. And, you know, there are a lot of people that look the same and I want to be able to see faces like mine and faces different than mine at those events. Sometimes people think art is only for either rich people or privileged people or people that want to schmooze, and it’s not really a comfortable environment. So with Muñeca I definitely wanted to create an environment where everything, everyone felt comfortable; so I have artists of all different colors and persuasions. I carry vendors that are of the LGBTQ spectrum. We really try to make sure it feels like a spot where everyone is really comfortable.
What made you decide to make Muñeca as inclusive as possible?
I was just telling someone the other day, my late husband used to tell me about my mother’s house. He used to say, “Going to your mother’s house, even on a Wednesday is like a celebration.” If people are together, and we’re together, it doesn’t matter if it’s someone’s birthday or not, like just the fact that we’re together is a celebration at your mom’s house. So I wanted to bring that kind of lovely flavor that I know is from my mom, my family and my culture. I wanted to bring that to the Muñeca space where people felt like home. I tend to not really have boozy, schmoozy kind of wine and cheese events. I had candy there at my grand opening.
That’s really cool, how it’s family-friendly. Because I do agree with you about the whole, schmoozy and boujee aspect.
Yeah, I never went to art school or anything like that. It started as collage and painting, and now it’s transitioned into a lot of digital work. I was doing public art for a while. So I wanted to be able to create something digitally, and then blow it up and be able to do it on a large scale. So, out of necessity, I started doing that, and I love it. A lot of my art is influenced by my culture, the loves in my life, whether it be family, friends, or husbands. I was married twice and widowed twice. My art is heavily influenced by my grief and by loss.
When did you open Muñeca and why? I mean you kind of explained what it’s about but what was your revelation of opening it? When did it click?
I want to see representation of my culture, people that look like me, people that don’t look like me out at these gallery events, and I didn’t feel like that was happening. I worked for a gallery, and the owner was really cool. She was kind of like a misfit and she created this really great environment for all these misfit artists, and the art was really modern compared to what you were seeing everywhere on the island at the time. Working at a gallery, you always think of what you would enjoy, if you created that space yourself. I had the ability, luckily, to be able to go in on my own and do it for myself.
With Hispanic Heritage Month going on, do you have any events based on that going on? If you don’t, what do you think are some ways that people can appreciate Latin culture, specifically Latin art, culture, and so forth?
I think that we should do that all year. If you come to the gallery, there happens to be multiple artists that are Hispanic. I think it’s nice of Arts Councils to do the Hispanic Heritage Month thing. You know, we appreciate it. But we also think that all year is the time to be showing.
Muñeca Arthouse is open from Thursday to Sunday starting at 1:30 p.m. daily. You can check the gallery out on Facebook and Instagram as well @munecaarthouse.