Vincent Valdez is an accomplished draughtsperson in many mediums. Distinguished for their realism, his paintings and drawings are metaphorical critiques of social and political orders.
From 2000-2005, a recurring subject in Valdez’s work was his brother Daniel, and he appears frequently in works such as Any Day Now, I Shall Be Released (2003) as well as his new series The Strangest Fruit (2013). Perhaps, as a form of brotherly role-play, his depictions of Daniel explore the proscriptive models of masculinity experienced in both Latino and American society. His approach to realism changed, however, in 2009 when his best friend Combat Medic John Holt Jr died while on active duty with the US Army in Iraq. In response, Valdez spent two years creating Excerpts for John (2012), a commemorative body of drawing, painting and video work recording the homecoming, funeral and burial of John. Since 2009, Valdez has been reconciling his metaphorical style with a sense of urgency to address real events and the historical, social and political issues of his time.
His most recent body of work, The Strangest Fruit, places realistic depictions of people known by the artist within an historical subject—the lynching of Latinos in Texas and the United States more broadly—metaphorically illustrating the persecution and oppression felt by contemporary Latinos in the United States. The series of large-scale, oil on canvas works the supposed throes and aftermath of a death by hanging. Slightly larger than life-size, the figures float, decontextualized, on a white background. The ropes that bind them are no longer visible, and the composition becomes an ambiguous scene between hanging and ascension.
Occurring over a period of nearly one hundred years between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, the lynching of Latinos was often overlooked by mainstream American society, media and history. The events were recorded, however, in local community leaflets and in folk ballads (corridos). Here, Valdez presents a special installation of these new works as an attempt to reconcile his style of metaphorical realism with the unwritten histories of these lynchings and the ongoing struggles and injustices experienced by contemporary Latinos in the United States.
At the far end of the gallery, Valdez presents an adapted version of the poem "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) written and performed in the mid-to-late 1930s as a protest song that exposed racism and the lynching of African Americans in the United States, capturing popular imagination through recordings by singers such as Billie Holiday. The text stands as an transcribed corrido — a ballad — inscribing the history of Latino lynching onto the wall of the gallery. The last line "…here is a strange and bitter crop" echoes amongst the pained and contorted figures, presenting them as subjective evidence of ongoing social and cultural oppression.
The Strangest Fruit Symposium
The David Winton Bell Gallery will present a symposium in conjunction with the opening of Vincent Valdez | The Strangest Fruit on October 18, 2013 from 3:30 to 6:30 pm. Monica Muñoz Martinez, Carlos E. Castañeda Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, will present “Reckoning with Anti-Mexican Violence: Visual Legacies of State Sanctioned Violence in Texas, 1910-Present.” Daniel Hernandez, Editor, VICE México, Mexico City, will follow with “Hanging Brown Men,” and the symposium will conclude with an artist lecture by Vincent Valdez.
About the artist
Valdez grew up in San Antonio and demonstrated talent for drawing at an early age. As a young muralist, he began exploring imagery that pertained to social/political statements. Vincent received a full scholarship to The Rhode Island School of Design where he earned his BFA in 2000. In 2004, Stations, Valdez’s suite of monumental charcoal drawings, was shown at the McNay Museum in Texas. He was the youngest artist to have a solo exhibition at the McNay. Exhibition venues include: The Los Angeles County Musuem of Art, The Snite Musuem of Art, The Frye Museum, The Mexican Museum of National Art, Chicago, The Parsons Museum in Paris, The El Paso Museum of Art, OSDE Buenos Aires, The Laguna Art Museum and others. A recipient of the Skowhegan School of Painting ’05 and The Vermont Studio Center ’11, Valdez lives and works in Fire Station #15, his restored 1928 fire station in San Antonio, TX. This exhibition marks his solo debut on the East Coast