PaperCity Magazine

November 2018- Houston

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86 V incent Valdez has been creating jaw- dropping figurative drawings now for more than 10 years. Back in 2011, I was confronted with a series of hyper-masculine portraits of boxers — black, white, Latino, Native American, isolated figures rendered on white backgrounds. Their boxing stance suggests the decisive moment seconds before delivering a crushing jab to their opponent. Valdez's narrative, of course, while open to multiple interpretations, contains essential metaphorical elements that speak to power relations and the colors of our skin. The conceptual hook lies in the artist's clever understanding of the relationship between the spectator and the object, by making us the unwitting opponent to the sinewy figures on display. In subsequent projects, the artist has continued to focus on the human figure while ramping up the emotional tension of the compositions. In his series of oils on canvas titled "The Strangest Fruit" (2013), young men float against a white background in gravity-defying poses in which the spectator becomes witness to an emotional and physical crisis as a fait accompli. Billie Holiday's performance of Strange Fruit in 1939, which was based on a 1937 poem by Abel Meeropol, was an impassioned protest against American racism, particularly the lynching of African-Americans. The lyrics, which metaphorically linked a tree's fruit with the lynchings, establishes an entry point into the work. Valdez's compositions eliminate the salient elements used in a lynching — the trees, the ropes — but focuses on the violence inflicted on the bodies by emphasizing the contortions and the positions of the hands. These formal ambiguities become visual triggers used to emphasize the violent treatment of bodies of color and underscores a compelling narrative of the history of American violence. His controversial painting The City I (2015-16), a panoramic tour de force depicting Ku Klux Klan figures staring defiantly back at the view, came on the heels of difficult conversations surrounding museums and their responsibility towards social activism. In this piece, Valdez reminds us that racial violence has not gone away and that the Civil Rights Movement continues to this day. In his most recent series, the role of the viewer as an active participant informs the narrative structure of his series of works on paper called "Dream Baby Dream," which situates us in an entirely different psychological and spiritual realm. These elegiac compositions draw the viewer into an intimate yet uneasy space where one is confronted with individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds and spiritual faiths. While these somber figures are easily identified as individuals delivering eulogies, the larger message suggests the possibility of a collective social mourning. Martin Luther King's impassioned plea for nonviolence is recalled in the title of the series and is visually reinforced by the podium and microphones in the foreground of the compositions. Social protest, public THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING VINCENT BY GILBERT VICARIO, THE SELIG FAMILY CHIEF CURATOR, PHOENIX ART MUSEUM. PRODUCED BY MICHELLE AVIÑA. PORTRAIT ANDREW OKANO. SHOT AT KABOOM BOOKS. (continued on page 95) VALDEZ Vincent Valdez Vincent Valdez's Dream Baby Dream, 2018, at David Shelton Gallery COURTESY THE ARTIST AND DAVID SHELTON GALLERY

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