People who follow the San Antonio art scene know Vincent Valdez has grown from one of the city’s most promising prodigies and hottest young Chicano painters into an established artist who has exhibited in major museums nationwide and abroad and attracted the attention of such cultural icons as Ry Cooder and Cheech Marin. They also know he’s moved to Los Angeles.
The native son returns for Contemporary Art Month with Flashback, currently running at the Southwest School of Art and Craft, an exhibit of all-new paintings and a sweeping reflection on the themes and evolution of his work over the past decade. `See “From prodigy to preeminence,” February 17.` But even as he looks back, he is also looking forward with this Saturday’s premiere of “Recuerdo,” part of a pioneering video initiative conceived by the artist last year.
“Recuerdo” was produced by Pete Galindo, 34, and his Federal Art Project, along with cinematography and editing by Luis Guizar, 35. The two Los Angeles natives also worked on “Recuerdo”’s companion piece, “Burn,” which focused on that city’s panorama and residents and was released in September of last year. Galindo and Guizar joined Valdez in his hometown to film “Recuerdo” in February.
Valdez, only 32, dismisses the notion that living so close to Hollywood for almost five years has gotten under his skin. Video and film have always influenced his aesthetic, Valdez says. Transcending the canvas to exploit the screen medium came almost naturally. As a child, Valdez would pester his mother to freeze-frame videos on the family’s VCR; he would then tape paper to the television screen and trace the scenes.
“The films are an extension of my paintings,” Valdez says. “When I paint I always feel like I hear and feel these characters anyway, so this was a way to retain the lush palettes but express even more emotion. I’m pushing the two-dimensional boundaries of the canvas, and bringing my narratives to life. Instead of converting images to film, it is a way of making film into images.”
Indeed, in “Burn” and “Recuerdo” the artist submits motion-picture technology to the painter’s eye in an innovative fashion. Members of the public-at-large (for “Burn,” a Facebook page was used to solicit participants) file through his studio to be filmed against a green screen. The scenes are then set against a video of the San Antonio skyline that is shot from the same perspective as a Valdez painting included in the show at Southwest School. The individual subjects, silent against the backdrop, are unified in a “serene, timeless, trance-like” milieu. “I’m trying to blur the line between film and painting,” Valdez says.
In “Recuerdo,” for roughly 30 minutes (final editing was still unfinished when Valdez spoke with the Current), 107 different groups and individuals fade in and out against the nighttime cityscape, in which the Tower Life building and San Antonio’s many downtown hotels are visible. Participants, ranging from family to friends to strangers off the street, bare their humanity for the camera with an almost startling honesty. There is, to be fair, nothing Hollywoodesque about either video, and Valdez promises that the March 6 debut will stray even farther from his adopted city to evoke the people and spirit of San Antonio.
“Valdez is moving into the right direction, moving from a painter, illustrator, and craftsman into the world of film,” says Valdez’s friend and mentor Alex Rubio. “But he takes the film to the social and political arena by asking community members from his immediate environment who speak to the human side of the story. He’s choosing very wisely to depict a demographic that is very political but also very cultural and close to home, close to his heart, and close to his sensibilities.”
“‘Recuerdo’ literally was me remembering home,” Valdez says. “It was a very personal piece for me, a personal homage to the community and to all of the people responsible for getting me to where I am today. It’s my tribute.”
But as personal as it may be, the concept harbors universal application. The contrast between the striking and luminous Valdez cityscapes with the quiet, raw dignity of their inhabitants might animate and reveal the invisible denizens of Shanghai or London or Mexico City with the same power as it has in California or Texas. Could more videos, perhaps of different global cities, be waiting in the pipeline? Valdez remains coy: “I’m excited to see where it leads.” •