Valdez: Cartography of the Body
cast to the wind, paper boats, hybrid animals and plants still in gestation,
enigmatic drawings, fading colors, wavering outlines and the echo of
their shadow: these are the signs of a precarious, ineffable and transient
poetry, as fluid as running water or sand sifting through our fingers,
a poetry that traces and untraces itself, appears and vanishes, is hinted
at then finally rests in the work of Julio Valdez.
is a minor key, discreet, filled to the brim with ellipses, ghostly
voices, yearnings and reveries. But this minor key is resolved through
the use of a broader tonality as well as coherence and an impact that
are surprising for such a young artist. His visual vocabulary has been
built upon and articulated through a syntax that leaves no room for
fashionable trends or imported expressions. A signature that is personal
or, better still, intimate and introspective, is what shapes each stroke,
each shading, and every association generated by those fragmented and
hybrid shapes which are caught somewhere between abstraction and representation,
sign and symbol, contemporary discourse and primitive form.
Valdez's work there is a spatial uncertainty. While there is no depth
of field, there is a resonant aura of color which creates a world in
suspense, conveying a sense of time not yet defined; his universe does
not belong to the here and now, but to longing and nostalgia, to a world
not yet created, gathering elements for future existence. The artist
gives us some facts concerning, for instance, longing and nostalgia,
but he prefers to keep them loose, as if chosen at random, at the edge
of a non-linear sentimental memory (even when it could be a collective
memory, as well), moving to the rhythm of shared dreams.
the other hand, his line seems steady, profound, and direct. It has
the freshness and spontaneity of children's drawings and primitive paintings.
It is quick, as though drawn automatically. Tracing the human silhouette,
it creates a self-portrait unconcerned with anecdotal likeness that
expands from the personal to the collective. The outline of a body becomes
the iconography of an island, encompassing, as it transcends the individual,
others who are also part of the self. As the individual self is multiplied
and made corporeal, it is linked to a destiny beyond identity. A body
intertwined with land, its outline that of an island. It becomes an
"island-man," as Valdez defines himself. The island and the
human body are sprouting flowers and thorns. Surrounding them are plants,
animals, shapes that recall an indigenous culture, fragments of bodies,
other bodies - a partial inventory forever incomplete but always outlined,
just like the "island-man."
shapes evoke the flora, the fauna, the visual traditions, the history,
and the current circumstances of the island. They avoid becoming mere
illustrations by remaining unadorned. They resist mimetic representation
by becoming signs that are fused into planes of undefined colors or
are cut up into a mosaic, with gestural brushstrokes and chromatic shadings
inherited from the best of non-formalist abstract art. They always lend
to a presence of the natural world: the inevitable sea that defines
the island, the sultry earth and sky. Valdez reassembles fragments in
order to reinvent his own reality through art and, to do so, summons
memory and dreams, both real and imagined.
of these shapes are more explicit than others. The paper boat could
be a reference to the fragile makeshift vessels known as yolas,
on which some Dominicans risk their lives as they flee their island,
hoping to improve their lot. The paper boat is also a reference to infancy,
a reflection of an almost lost memory, like the hopes of many of those
who ride the yolas.
a similar way, the superimposed horizontal bodies that appear in some
of his paintings recall the slave trade of colonial times when captured
Africans were brought as cargo to America, under subhuman conditions.
One of the worst examples of man's inhumanity to man is thus denounced
in a manner that is not made any less convincing and shocking by its
simplicity. But Valdez goes beyond humanitarian protest; he directly
locates this crime against humanity within the painful history of his
island and his people by endowing these bodies with the shape of his
own body, the map of his homeland.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Almighty Hand, the Holy Wound, the Crown
of Thorns as another version of Saint Sebastian - all of these lend
a religious dimension to Valdez's work but through signs that are totally
need to communicate and share is captured in numerous references: a
hand alphabet, eyes, mouths, ears, calligraphy. Other elements keep
their meaning to themselves. Perhaps they have to do with the relationship,
emphasized by Jung, between the primitive stages of civilization and
the early years of human life. Paul Klee believed that the use of signs
allows us to get closer to the heart of creation. And indeed there is
something in the work of Julio Valdez that is primordial and exploratory.
act of infusing personal experience with a collective destiny and sealing
it inside the body/map states with no doubt that identity is the central
theme of Valdez's work. Like other outstanding artists from the Caribbean,
this Dominican artist does not keep the exterior and interior worlds
separate. Rather, he fuses them and goes from the specific to the general
and back to the specific again. Like Ana Mendieta does with the impressions
of her body in earth, Luis Cruz Azaceta with his miniature autobiographic
man, José Bedia with his pristine silhouettes, and Arnaldo Roche
with his bodies traced on canvas, Valdez offers (in a mystic sense)
the symbolic representation of his body as the milieu of identity. Further,
he paints with his hands, directly involving his own body in the creative
these artists, all of island origins, the body and inward examination
are springboards providing a means of anchoring an identity that by
virtue of its individuality, is also of a specific time and place: contemporary
life in the Caribbean.
Independent curator specializing in modern and contemporary Latin American art.