and Symbol: Julio
Valdez and the Printed Image
Valdez's printed oeuvre attests to the significant role that printmaking
can play in artist's career. Since1988, Valdez has made nearly 50 editioned
prints, at least as many related proofs, and over 100 monotypes. His
experimental mixture of techniques and openness to new processes continue
to expand his creative program and the technical range of his work in
grew up in an environment of prints. He still recalls the smell of ink
permeating his boyhood house in Santo Domingo, where his older brother
set up a screenprint workspace. As a young teenager Valdez experimented
at his brother's professional workshop, which specialized in screenprint
on paper, in the fine art tradition, and also on fabric for commercial
purposes. Beginning at age seventeen Valdez studied for three consecutive
summers at the Altos de Chavón School of Design in la Romana,
where his brother had established the school's first printmaking facility.
During the school year, he attented the National School of Fine Arts
in Santo Domingo, where he learned lithography. It was at this time
that Valdez recalls beginning to grasp the full creative potential of
Valdez continued studies as a full-time student at Altos de Chavón
and, after graduating in 1988, was among a group of students selected
for a works on paper exhibition at the Omar Rayo Museum, home to a renowned
collection of Latin American prints and drawings amassed by the prominent
Colombian painter and printmaker. This was Valdez's first professional
break, and precipitated the formation of the young artist group, Q-Atro
XXI. 1 Feeding off their collective energy and
momentum, he and his peers produced prints at a feverish pace. Over
the next few years, Valdez developed a visceral connection between his
creative inspirations and the hands-on technical processes of printmaking.
By 1993- at the young age of twenty-four-Valdez had his first of many
solo print exhibitions. 2
special aspect of printmaking is its collaborative nature. Although
some artists create prints on their own, most attempt printmaking at
the encouragement of a publisher or workshop that provides the resources
and facilities to produce and distribute their prints. This system can
result in a rich and rewarding dialogue between artist and master printer.
Valdez's printmaking matured and expanded in response to two such collaborations,
which in turn led to important thematic developments in his work.
1994, Valdez received a prestigious fellowship at the Printmaking Workshop
in New York, established 1948 by artist and master printer Robert Blackburn.
Blackburn, who in the early 1980's had advised Altos de Chavón
on the purchase of a press, met Valdez at the suggestion of the school's
director. Shortly into their meeting, Blackburn offered Valdez a one-year
fellowship at the Printmaking Workshop, a renowned facility that provides
opportunity for international artists - many of color - to take classes
in a variety of printmaking techniques, use the workshop facilities,
and participate in exhibitions. There, Valdez learned new techniques
previously inaccessible to him. It was a time of complete technical
immersion and exploration. Moreover, the large, open, democratic space
of the workshop, as Valdez describes it, encouraged great synergy among
artists, both inside and outside the classroom.
his fellowship neared its end, another opportunity presented itself
in the form of a phone call from one of Blackburn's former master printers,
Kathy Caraccio, 3 who was seeking a temporary
editioning assistant. Interested, Valdez volunteered for the job. Within
days of working as her assistant, Caraccio sensed Valdez's vast experience
and asked him to create his own work on the press. This incident resulted
in what has become the artist's most sensitive and rewarding relationship
with a printer. "It was love at first sight," 4 Valdez recalls. In contrast to Blackburn's vibrant group dynamic, Caraccio
offered an intimate working environment, in which artist and printer
partnered to find new methods for accomplishing what Valdez sought to
express. There, Valdez could practice quietly on his own, while Caraccio
fine-tuned his experiments and slowly introduced him to new processes.
Although two dimensional, Valdez's prints are anything but flat. The
ink, paper, and complex matrices compressed under the weight of the
press create intricate lines and textured surfaces that are tactile.
Throughout his career, Valdez has consistently engaged print processes
that appeal to the touch as much as to sight. This method parallels
the artist's approach to his mixed - media painting - applying a combination
of acrylic paint, acrylic pigments, and ink onto paper which is mounted
onto canvas or jute. In print, he achieves this layered quality with
a similarly hands-on approach that combines an array of printmaking
processes, often utilizing non-traditional materials.
on, in Santo Domingo, Valdez combined screenprint and collagraph, sometimes
adding the technique of inkless embossing. With screenprint, a form
of stenciling, an artist creates a design on tightly stretched mesh
(or silk), and then forces ink through the remaining openings in the
mesh onto paper underneath. In collagraph, various three-dimensional
materials are fixed, or collaged, to the surface of a plate. When inked
and run through the press, the plate produces a relief effect on the
paper. Similarly, inkless embossing creates a sculptural relief by printing
dampened paper on a collaged plate. By layering one versatile medium
on top of the other, Valdez set the stage for his current immersion
in the visual effects of overlapping and transparency.
Beginning in 1994, at Caraccio's suggestion and under her expert guidance,
Valdez began working with the technique she terms "silk aquatint."
Although technically related to collagraph, its name - silk aquatint
- refers to the visual tonal effects of aquatint, rather than to the
intaglio technique of aquatint itself, which involves powered resin
and acid. 5 To create his silk aquatints, Valdez
glues finely woven polyester onto a stiff cardboard or sanded plastic
backing, and then creates a design by applying a mixture of acrylic
paint and a gloss medium in varying amounts. The plate is then wiped
(as one would an etching plate), and printed using a press. Those areas
partially "blocked out" by the design retain much less ink,
creating lighter shades of color. Silk Aquatint also allows Valdez the
freedom to apply two or more colors to the plate at a time. This capability
propelled his printed work away from an earlier monochromatic palette.
recent years, Valdez has experimented even more aggressively with color
through the addition of two techniques: à la poupée and
chine collé. Subtle, painterly mixtures of color are achieved
using à la poupée (poupée is the French word for
"doll"), in which several colors are applied to the plate
using small clothe dabbers (resembling a doll's head). This enables
greater blending, particularly when printing with dampened paper. Chine
collé is the method of adhering thin pieces of colored paper,
torn or cut to a desired shape, to the larger printing paper at the
same time that the inked image is printed. The poetic color effects
of these techniques are accentuated by the texture of the fine polyester
mesh underneath. The rich surfaces of prints such as Pair and Profile with Thorns convey this medley of processes.
addition to his silk aquatints, Valdez frequently creates monotypes
- unique prints made from a plate that has been drawn or painted, in
Valdez's case using printer's ink, and then transferred onto paper.
It is an intriguing hybrid that combines painting and printmaking for
a spontaneous and direct outcome - an approach that appeals to Valdez.
Yet the spontaneous look of this technique belies its complexity. Valdez
often reworks the residual "ghost" image on his plate, adding
markings to create a second print with variations. He also frequently
adds handwork to his monotypes using wax crayons and gouache, further
blurring the boundaries between his mediums. Me veo Claramente is one of Valdez's most complex monotypes. In addition to creating a
traditional monotype, here Valdez has added a trace monotype by drawing
(or tracing) on the back of the paper with the plate underneath. He
also repeatedly stamped the back of the print with the circular container
from an empty glue stick, thereby transferring the shape to the front.
texture, tonality, and layering of Valdez's prints - as well as the
physicality of his processes - are linked to the meaning and symbolism
of his work. As with his mixed-media paintings, Valdez describes his
hand application of materials to the printing plate as a way of paying
homage to ancient cultural traditions of Africa and Latin America. In
addition, the symbols Valdez incorporates in his work suggest a deep
connection to his heritage.
rudimentary and fragmented figures can be found in Valdez's early printed
abstractions, a clear human presence - in the form of a silhouetted
body - emerged in 1994 and remained through the decade. This change
occurred while Valdez was at the Printmaking Workshop in New York. During
this time, Valdez was without a painting studio, so the press was his
only creative outlet. After settling permanently in New York, the silhouette
motif spread to his work in all mediums, affirming the creative primacy
of his printed work. Valdez describes the silhouette as both autobiographical 6 and, in its horizontal orientation, representative
of a slave being transported by ship to the Caribbean. It is a human
figure with an anonymous presence - a shadow or imprint that evokes
both an individual's experience and a shared history. The absence of
identifiable characteristics, such as a face, contributes to the sense
that Valdez's figures are tied to his present life, away from his homeland,
and to his ancestral past.
the late 1990's, Valdez's painted silhouettes were joined by other imagery.
He introduced plant, marine, and animal life - in particular the lizard
and the Yuca plant, both indigenous to the Dominican Republic - as well
as abstract forms and text. On certain canvases, collage elements with
these symbols surround an isolated silhouette; on other canvases, the
symbols cover the entire composition in a grid of collage, superimposed
by the silhouette. Valdez's interest in overlapping planes corresponds
to his printed work from this period. To compensate for the smaller
size of his prints, his grid of symbols recedes into the background
and the superimposed figure looms larger. In addition, he often reduces
the silhouette to a bust or head to accommodate the scale of his prints,
while still communicating the power of his larger painted silhouettes.
the year 2000, came yet another visual and thematic change. In contrast
to the silhouettes of the previous decade, Valdez's new work reveals
the inescapable physicality of the body showing all that was previously
omitted. Dismembered body parts and flayed flesh in works such as Features and To the Bones II suggest a new awareness of the human body
and morbidity. Although connected metaphorically to struggle and his
country's past, this work is also linked to widespread contemporary
artistic concerns about the body and public awareness of private, internal
functions. Interestingly, however, this shift in imagery has not been
filtered through Valdez's printmaking. His new prints remain focused
on the image of the head, perhaps because he has not yet exhausted all
its technical permutations.
without the background of Valdez's life and techniques, his work can
elicit emotional and visceral responses in the viewer. This is most
evident in one body part continuosly depicted, even from his earliest
work - the Sacred Heart. But less a religious statement than a symbol,
the heart has persisted as a spiritual and intuitive insignia for Valdez.
It is an emblematic organ that guides his art, as it does his life.
B. Hecker, Assistant Curator
Dept. of Prints & Illustrated Books
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York
The name Q-Atro XXI is a play on the number "cuatro", the
Spansih word for "four", which in this context means "for
the twenty-first century."
2 The exhibition was in San Juan, Puerto Rico was curated by Beatriz
Mayte Santiago Ibarra, organizer of the Latin American and Caribbean
Print Biennial San Juan - one of the oldest print biennials. Later in
his career, Valdez would be included in such print biennials throughout
3 The K. Coraccio Printmaking Workshop, established in 1977, specializes
in collagraphic processes.
4 Conversation with the artist, December 29, 2000.
5 Valdez rarely worked with acid-derived etchings. The facilities at
Altos de Chavón did not include acid baths - which are expensive
to maintain - perhaps directing Valdez to consistently rely on applying
materials to his printing plate to achieve textured surfaces. Valdez's
interest in "silk aquatint" may also hark back to his early
exposure to screenprint (both on paper and fabric) in his brother's
6 There are only a few painted portraits in which Valdez's face is clearly