by Federica Palomero
Chief Curator, Museo Alejandro Otero, Caracas Venezuela
English translation by Ruth Trombka
To understand the work of Julio Valdez, one might attempt to see it within the context of the great Latin American stories of the twentieth century, those encoded readings that reveal, at once, harmony and dissonance, parallelism and divergence. It then becomes possible to see Valdez's evocative discourse as immersed in both the Caribbean-Latin American world and in contemporary aesthetics.
The need to assign meaning to experiences, to constantly be inventing, to categorize in order to construct meaning -- or at least an approximation of meaning -- is reminiscent of the long tradition of attempting to include in one's own voice an essence of the Latin American. But Valdez's search, at this point, doesn't have that pioneering drive of, for example, the Puerto Rican artist Oller who, at the turn of the century, focused on the asecular, immutable definitions of nature on the island. Valdez is more humble: he gets hold of fragments of reality, attempting to establish, fleetingly, some tenuous connections between unconnected things, connections that could hint at an identity.
On the list of things to be assigned meaning is, first and foremost, nature. The greatest story, since the time of the earliest chroniclers, has been that of nature untouched, territory undiscovered, adventures not yet taken. But Valdez seems to ask, "And if this sense of adventure were our measure?" Everything in his paintings -- the sea that redefines all, the land, like the thin line of the horizon that disappears into the ocean, the flowers and blades of grass, the fauna, real or mythical -- becomes more intimate in the nostalgic distance of the exiled. Here there is no impassioned eagerness to span an epic totality, rather a desire only to appropriate, for memory's sake, the attainable.
Valdez's formal expression doesn't answer to a defined style (if such a thing still exists), but to his capacity to create his own vocabulary within the immense gamut of references, and the freedom to use them, that characterizes our times. Nevertheless, his art answers, albeit in a diffuse and unconventional manner, to another great style of discourse, the baroque, the most genuine language of "latinamericanism," according to its most brilliant exponents, Carpentier and Lezama Lima. And if, in effect, our way of seeing and expressing ourselves is profoundly baroque -- that is to say, synthesized, spiritual, free of imposition, mestizo -- Valdez's work is an example of it.
Tied to the discourse on the baroque nature of Latin American culture is the mythical-religious. And it is the mythical-religious which runs like a vein through all of Valdez's work, fusing man and nature, creating one of land and beliefs, incorporating ancestral symbols with contemporary language, and transforming all into the magic of the Caribbean.
Among other things, creating a body of work with the vivid richness and conceptual complexity of Julio Valdez is like coming up with a new theory of what is Latin American, one that kneads the popular with the cultured, the traditional with the contemporary. This "story" is not too far removed from the cosmic race dreamed up by Vasconcelos. However, it possesses a different tone from that of the pioneering agenda of modernism. Valdez's tone is more subtle, perhaps a bit skeptical, but profoundly sincere.