PaperCity Magazine

September 2016 - Houston

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Bridges' epic survey of contemporary Amer- ican art, "State of the Art." In 2013, Valdez brought forth "The Strangest Fruit," a series of paintings that opened again the Pandora's box of Amer- ican racial history — an elegiac look into Latino lynchings throughout the Southwest, beginning in the 19th century. Contemporary figures drawn from real life, posed with actual nooses around their necks, suggest ascension, as the artist removes the rope in the com- pleted canvases. Each individual rendered (all males, startlingly life-sized), appear to levitate. "Strangest Fruit" got its title from Billie Holiday's classic 1939 recording of a protest song written by Abel Meeropol. The series touched down at Artpace and also Washington and Lee University museum, after beginning its tour at Brown University's David Winton Bell Gallery. All of this is but a preamble to Valdez's bravest art yet. This month, he unfurls "The Beginning is Near (Part I)," a room-sized installation at his long-time dealer, Houston's David Shelton Gallery, detailing the Ku Klux Klan. A year in the making, the multi-paneled artwork The City I and the single canvas The City II have already caught the attention of The New York Times. On March 5, 2016, Times editorial writer Lawrence Downes — who had journeyed to San Antonio for the story — covered Valdez's Klan series in an op-ed feature chillingly titled "An All- American Family Portrait, in White." In an age that we thought, with President Obama's 2008 election, was supposed to be post-ra- cial America (we now sadly realize that it is not), Valdez's Klansmen, Klanswomen, and even Klankids, portrayed in starkly haunting grisaille, force us to wonder who is under those hoods. The viewer sincerely hopes the answer is not the face that looks us back in the mirror. Our exclusive Q&A with the artist, conducted via email, follows. "Vincent Valdez: The Beginning is Near (Part I)," opening Friday, September 9, 6 to 8 pm (through Saturday, October 8), at David Shelton Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713.393.7319, Upcoming for the artist in 2017: The solo presentation "Excerpts for John" will be included in "Portraiture Now: The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now" at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; and the group show, "Home – So Different, So Appeal- ing," in conjunction with "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA" at LACMA, traveling to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. When did you begin thinking about this new series that features the Klan front and center? The subject in "The Beginning is Near (Part I)" developed from multiple directions over a period of time. In 2005, while in L.A. working on a collaborative project with musician Ry Cooder, I found myself drawn to a framed lithograph by Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) that hung in his house. The print depicted a clumsy, but exquisitely drawn, Mickey Mouse car with over inflated tires that seemed as if it was roaming around a dystopian world with no destination in mind. I remember telling Ry that Guston's car reminded me of the large, round, clunky 1953 Good Hu- mor ice cream truck that he had restored so that I could paint its surface with a visual history of the Chavez Ravine neighborhood that dates back to its namesake in 1844. The project, which took two years, involved complex issues, topics and events including public housing development in the City of Los Angeles from 1949-1959, the displacement of 1,800 self-sustaining Mexican-American residents, "progressive" urban and business developers, the Housing Authority, eminent domain, the Los Angeles Police Department, the McCarthy Trials, J. Edgar Hoover and Communist paranoia, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and, most importantly, current-day Dodgers Stadium. During that time in L.A., which is where Guston grew up, I wanted to learn more about this painter whose work had a lasting and profound impact on me. The first Guston book that I purchased was Guston: Retrospective at the Los Angeles County Mu- seum of Art bookstore. Around 2011, I came across a YouTube video of the epic song "The Klan" from the album Real Eyes (1980) by poet/performer/ activist Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011), an artist I have long admired for his commit- ment to the social and political issues of his day. I was struck by the song's haunting and almost visual lyrics that lament for "father, mother, sister, and brother" to "stand by me" and "underneath his white disguise, I have looked into his eyes." The video pro- vided a single, unsettling visual along with the caption: "Coming from five generations of Ku Klux Klan members, 58-year-old 'Ms. Ruth' sews hoods and robes for Klan members seven days-a-week, blessing each one when it's done." This led me to consider the stark contrasts and similarities between the lyrics and image, with each side opposing the other, and each side calling out for strength, love, and protection of family. Veronica Roberts, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton in Austin, invited me in 2015 to tour the exhibition "Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties," which originated at the Brooklyn Museum. Little did I know that halfway through the exhibition I would find myself face-to-face with Philip Guston's painting City Limits (1969), on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It features a three-man crew of cartoonish figures in white hoods cruising around in a beat up pink car. As stated in the text from MoMA about the painting: "Wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods, they are plainly up to no good; but rather than invoking a specific evil, these men are symbolic embodiments of a general know-nothing violence. The princi- pal story told here is that of an America run afoul of its democratic promise." Driving home [that day], lyrics from Scott-Heron's "The Klan" continued playing on a loop in my head, a loop that started as I was trans- fixed by the images in Guston's painting. The words of Scott-Heron and the images of Guston had merged. Some ideas are instant. Others lie dormant for years, unfolding gradually. Later that evening, while working on other drawings, the image and concept of what became The City appeared. I grabbed a sheet of paper and quickly began drawing. The conversation with Vincent Valdez continues at (Continued from page 110) 112

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