Artists Making Their Mark
Cristina La Porta, Ph.D
For Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, November/December 2014-Page 102
Dreaming Boy III, 2013
Oil on Linen, 36 x 78 in.
On view at June Kelly Gallery, New York City (November 7-December 9)
JULIO VALDEZ (b. 1969) is a Dominican artist who trained in oil painting and printmaking in both his native land and his longtime home, New York City, where he now makes artworks that evoke the Caribbean region's physical beauty and varied cultures. Early in his career, Valdez depicted Caribbean waters as a vehicle of migration, charged with the unsettling histories of slavery, imperialism, and mass tourism. His images of little boats drew upon universal themes of the individual's struggles on the sea of experience.
In his latest show at Manhattan's June Kelly Gallery, In Order to Dream the Sun (November 7 - December 9), Valdez demonstrates that his relationship with water has become far more intimate. His figures appear not on boats, but immersed in transformative waters. Now he addresses not only the classical motif of bathers, but also the long-standing plein air tradition of working from nature and then reworking in the studio. Valdez says he is less concerned with brushwork and the "bravura of painting," however, than with art as a "meditation on memory, island culture, pleasure, life itself - all done in a cinematic way."
In Dreaming Boy III, for example, Valdez's son floats in a calm green-blue sea, eyes half-closed as if in a reverie induced by the undulations. His half-smile suggests rapture as he floats, Ophelia-like, conveying a serenity and a connection with water's liberating buoyancy. Valdez made this picture by taking photographs of his son floating, and making sketches of Caribbean water's fluctuations. He scanned these images and additional drawings into his computer, which generated a sketch that became the basis for his oil painting.
Also on show this season are Cayo Arenas 6:30 P.M. and Cayo Levantado III, which honor Monet's haystack series by providing different views of the same landscape. The former is an aerial view of water - in muted shades of grays, blue, and purple - filling the picture plane with just a sliver of a sandbar. In Cayo Levantado III, we seem to skim along a sea of sunlit blue-greens.
Underscoring Valdez's trajectory from traditional seascapes toward abstraction, the current exhibition contrasts his 2006 Butterfly Island I (depicting the Dominican Republic) with the more recent Butterfly Island II, a quartet of paintings that show the outlines of various Caribbean isles superimposed over each other to create enigmatic Rorschach-like forms. In their allusion to the ideals of a Pan-Caribbean culture, these carry a more socio-political charge.