John Valadez is widely considered the most significant artist to have developed a realist pictorial language recording the Chicano experience in Los Angeles during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. His work has come to define the iconography of Chicano identity of the period, situating it within the changing dynamics of the city rather than nostalgically attempting to reconstruct a mythical and distant past. His style is derived from street photography as he records the life of his community and of other inhabitants of downtown Los Angeles. Yet, his interest in the documentary photographic tradition is also closely related to the use of this genre by experimental L.A. artists who, since the 1960s when portable cameras became ubiquitous, have directed their lenses toward artistic ends. Valadez turned the ordinary snapshot into a source for his portrayal of a large, diverse cast of urban inhabitants drawn from his everyday life. Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Valadez began as a muralist, in which he presented themes of invisible borders and histories binding together Spanish, Mexican, and American culture. Valadez’s intense and colorful artworks express the Chicano experience in a contemporary representational style infused with elements of magical realism. His virtuoso pastel drawings present intense contrasts: the formal and narrative interpretations resemble unlikely photographs that offer social commentary on everyday urban life.
Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez is the first survey exhibition of this important Mexican-American artist and muralist, who has had profound influence on the Chicano art movement in the United States. This exhibition spans 35 years of Valadez’s photographs, paintings, pastels, and other works on paper. Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez presents, for the first time, the development of Valadez’s studio works: from his early use of documentary and street photography to the influence of European baroque and rococo painting and sculpture, and finally, to his more recent amalgamation of photography-based imagery with a spatial and temporal structure pointing towards Surrealism. The exhibition explores the specific documentary implications of Valadez’s paintings, pastels, and drawings of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and their later evolution into cityscapes imbued with his desire to depict the nitty-gritty of urban life in L.A. and its ethnic underclass.
Pastels and paintings from the 1990s and 2000s will also be included in the exhibition. These works, which depart from his earlier strict adherence to deadpan representation towards a more baroque compositional structure, are marked by a need to push the boundaries of structure and style. Memory, desire, intuition, and humor blend in these masterfully accomplished works on canvas and paper, which are thrust by their very excess into a territory that materializes a personal iconography beyond the limits of cultural identity. In his later works, Valadez aims to make familiar the unfamiliar—whether dreams and fantasies, or the cultural identity of others.
Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Support for the exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund. Additional funding is provided by the Cochrane Exhibition Fund. Related programs are supported by the James Irvine Foundation Arts Innovation Fund. Institutional support for MCASD is provided, in part, by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.