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John Valadez
Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica, California
Preview by Scarlet Cheng


John Valadez, "Lover's Creek," 2012, pastel on paper, 38 x 25"

Continuing through February 21, 2015

John Valadez is one of Southern California’s most gifted portrait artists. He has a deft hand and insightful powers of observation, and manages to capture the lively form along with the lively spirit of his subjects, whether working on small drawings and pastels or large paintings and murals. He also has a knack for distilling quintessential moments in the lives of ordinary people, people in the Chicano community of East L.A.  Born in Los Angeles, Valadez grew up in Boyle Heights and attended East Los Angeles Junior College before going on to get a BFA at Cal State Long Beach.

In this survey exhibition, titled “Como Fregas / What Now,” we get to see his hand at a range of media, as well as savor the rawness and sensitivity he brings to portraits and captured moments. His subjects are often depicted in public celebrations but sometimes in uncomfortable confrontations. Among the approximately 40 works there are a dozen photographs and a large painting on canvas from the 1970s that has not been exhibited before.

In this selection, open sensuality is much in evidence. In the large pastel "Lover's Creek" two lovers — the woman unclothed, the man clothed — stand slightly obscured by the branches of a tree along the banks of a small winding creek. They are about to make love, or have just finished, and embrace in a quiet moment. The couple aren’t the slick and slim advertising-pretty body types; they are stout and real, which makes the moment feel more intimate. So intimate, in fact, that one feels one should look away. In another work, a woman in a bright red dress sits atop the hood of a car, her legs folded in front of her in a a frontal, deliberately provocative view. Cars are an important part of East L.A. culture, so it’s no accident that Valadez likes to include cars in his work — often cool, sexy ones like the prized convertible.

He also likes to show weddings and other celebrations or rituals of the life he knows. A more poignant view is offered in the tall vertical painting “Wedding Window,” in which a young woman turns around from looking into a shop window. She’s wearing a lacy top and red skirt, her brunette hair cascading about her, turning as if someone has just called out to her. Behind her, inside the window, is a mannequin dressed in a shoulder-less white dress, tight around the torso. Is this the future that she stands before, is she yearning for that dress, that look? 

A tense street confrontation is captured in “Street Fight,” a large pastel and acrylic on paper. Started in 1988 and only finished this year, this work reflects a more experimental side. The central image is of a woman in cut-offs being restrained by another person with his or her arms around her, both facing a man who looks to one side. They and several bystanders are in a field made of swatches of color, with flecks of yellow. While Valadez’s technique is refined, he brings a rawness to the subject matter — these are people who live on the streets, people who live on the edge of their emotions, and one never knows when those emotions will come to a boil.

Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2015

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