New Tracks in Paintings and Prints
his paintings and prints, Julio Valdez compacts both history and geography.
From the interplay between his contemporary urban experiences and the
diverse, richly layered traditions of his island heritage, Valdez creates
imagery that reflects both personal vision and collective mythology.
Born in Santo Domingo in 1969, Valdez came to live in New York City
in 1993. This geographic relocation launched his quest for a new history,
which would span culture and memory, leaving its tracks on his paintings
the epic poetry of Pedro Pietri, author of Puerto Rican Obituary,
Valdez’s imagery reconnects his island legacy, with its historical
and political complexities, to his current experience in New York City.
A painted spiral or talisman links the artist with his Taino ancestors;
an abbreviated palm tree or lizard evokes the flora and fauna of his
In Ancestors with Sour Pineapple, an ironic juxtaposition of ancient
and modern, Valdez views his island’s history with an incisive,
yet nostalgic, eye. This diptych, with its scratched and hand-rubbed
surface, celebrates the early techniques used by Taino potters; with
dual panels of styrofoam, this painting acknowledges the products of
modern technology. Like Eve in paradise, the Taino woman in this painting
confirms the innocence of the past as she witnesses the ill-fated growth
of Hispaniola’s "sour pineapple."
a large new painting, Between Shock and Tenderness, Valdez
unfurls his figure within a geographical context, using latitude and
longitude lines to pinpoint his position on his journey. However, the
power of this painting is not its geographical odyssey, but instead,
the artist’s imagined construct, a vision that erases geography,
akin to Pedro Mir’s in his poem, There is a Country in the
Often, a substitutive figure enters a Valdez painting. With a human
profile or silhouette, this figure presides as narrator. He interprets
signs and symbols, translates Spanish or English, and defines identity.
Both autobiographical and universal, he can be found in Bilingual
Profile or Forest Cry. Collecting fragments of meaning
presented as ideograms, he re-forms and re-tells the artist’s
story. Like other exiles and expatriates, this surrogate figure searches
for connections and continuity. Weaving tropical memories into urban
realities, he continues the journey, tracking cerulean, alizarin, and
ochre over the canvas along his way.
Art Historian and Director of the Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College,
The City University of New York