Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vincent Valdez Paints a Haunting Call to Action

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2016 at 5:00 AM

click to enlarge VINCENT VALDEZ,  THE STRANGEST FRUIT
  • Vincent Valdez, The Strangest Fruit
If you follow the contemporary art scene, it’s safe to assume you’re already familiar with the powerful work of San Antonio-born, Houston-based artist Vincent Valdez. Exhibited at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery in 2013 and at Artpace the following year, Valdez’s arresting exhibition “The Strangest Fruit” comprised large-scale, full-body portraits of the artist’s friends suspended as if by invisible nooses — a reference “the lost/erased history of lynched Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the state of Texas from the late 1800s well into the 1930s.” Dressed in contemporary street clothes, Valdez’s suspended subjects effectively brought a sinister past into modern times to function as a pointed reminder.
click to enlarge VINCENT VALDEZ, THE CITY I
  • Vincent Valdez, The City I

In certain ways, his epic, 30-foot-long painting The City I — which took 11 months to complete and anchors his new Houston show “The Beginning Is Near (Part I)” — feels cut from the same cloth. Famously described by The New York Times as “a selfie for 21st-century America,” the wall-sized, entirely black-and-white work confronts gallery-goers with a gathering of Ku Klux Klan members upstaging (or “photo-bombing” as Valdez suggests) an anonymous cityscape populated by a sole cellular tower and twinkling lights in the distance. Admittedly, it’s difficult to stand in front of one of Valdez’s paintings or drawings without feeling awestruck by his mastery of realism, yet making inevitable eye contact with his hooded haters is disturbing, even frightening. Shuffling by The City I, details both telling and mysterious emerge — among them: a hooded baby wearing Nikes and clutching a Pikachu, a lone unmasked figure, a hunting dog, an aluminum can and a truck with its lights on.  

click to enlarge VINCENT VALDEZ, (DETAIL) THE CITY I
  • Vincent Valdez, (Detail) The City I

In a Q&A included in the exhibition notes, Washington and Lee University art history professor Andrea Lepage asks Valdez if he considers The City a call to action. His response: “The City is a testament of what I witness in American society. I think it is safe to say that much of my work resonates like an alarm that rings nonstop in my head. I must depict what I witness. This is my call to action, to get up and speak up.”

click to enlarge VINCENT VALDEZ, (DETAIL) THE CITY I
  • Vincent Valdez, (Detail) The City I

“Vincent Valdez: The Beginning is Near (Part I)”
Free, Sept. 9 - Oct. 8, 11am-6pm Tue-Sat, David Shelton Gallery, 4411 Montrose Blvd., Suite B, Houston, (713) 393-7319, davidsheltongallery.com.

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