" I was real careful with it", Valadez expressed when he was telling the story of his early drawing lifetime. He said he remembered making a drawing of Fred Flinstone in grammar school. As a third grader, most of his schnool mates could not believe he had made the drawing. But even as a child, Valadez was already respecting his work by being "careful with it". He was a loner as a child and continues to stress the virtues of solitude as a formula for making art.
Valadez is an esteemed artistic treasure for the people of East Los Angeles and Los Angeles County. His current retrospective exhibition , traveling from The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, hopefully expands his reputation throughout the United States as a true American realist artist.
Valadez began his art career in thelate sixties and early seventies in conjunction with the civil rights and anti-war movement. He was part of the burgeoning Chicano Art coalition. In terms of the history of the United States, Valadez said that we know the story of the migration from the east to the west but not so much of from the south to the north. Valadez, along with his artist colleagues, wanted to be the generation that told "'our story" and "how we were trying to figure it out." He continued to say: "before we wanted to m ake Chicano art...now we are Chicanos that make art...". While he focuses on Realism, Valadez is still telling the story of his community, "still about us" no matter where he show his work.
Valadez'likes to jump around with different subject matter that deals with figurative conflicts of urbanism, men, women, and drama. He will continue to work on a theme, such as the car show theme, until he runs out of commentary. But sometimes it can be years later that he has another idea and he still will add it to a previous series. Valadez feels that artists should respect their thoughts. He likes to work intuitively and not question his impulses. When he was younger he did not feel the need to over explain his process. He found that when he used to talk about his work the strain would prevent him from working for a few days. Now that he is older his energy level changes. There are still some ideas that he wants to clear up beofre he begins new projects.
The exhibition contains paintings, photographs, and pastel drawings. Valadez is a master with pastel. He likes to call it "dry paint". In the pastel drawing entitled Robert and Liz, Liz's jersey is an example of how Valadez uses pastel like a weaver integrating colored thread. Working from a photograph, he "goes beyond the photograph" layering marks with undercoats of pastel that he mixes with colors or lays them on top of each other. He said the process took him about nine to ten years of trying to figure it out. One of the outcomes was learning how to use pastels as colored grounds. The colored grounds were achieved by grinding down the pastels, adding water to them and creating a paste. The wet ground pastels form a resin which sometimes is hard to draw over. He pushes the pastel as far as he can and combines it with acrylic paint.
Valadez' skills go beyond the gallery walls. He has been creating murals in Los Angeles County, Texas, and Europe. His use of historical references and the integration of family, friends, and people from his community, are also seen in on a wall of a condominium called Gallery 420.
Santa Ana Condition Exhibition has become a reunion of sorts for the various people that Valadez has photographed for the past thirty eight years. These include aunts, cousins, and grandchildren from "Soto to Montebello". The people are an extension of his psyche and his emotional and physical framework. He wants to make work that "transcends" and exemplifies "survival skills".
His advise to young artists is that it is a "tough road" and "if you're trying to get rich and famous don't become an artist. You have to focus on your work. Stop listening to all the voices and find a mission statement."
Previous interview: "Are you a Chicano artist?"
Valadez: "I am if it bothers you."
The Car Show 2001 (76"x96 1/4")
Robert & Liz
Long Beach Mural in progress
John Valadez and Sandra Vista at VPAM 10/12/13 Artist walk through