We sit down and chat with painter and muralist Vincent Valdez. Vincent is based in the city of San Antonio, TX, and his work has opened many doors to his career as a full-time artist. His work is both provocative and amazing to see live. His color balance is unique, the message he portrays is strong, and he gives you an inside look into the Chicano lifestyle in an art form.
Where were you were born and raised?
I was born and raised in the South Side of San Antonio in 1977. It’s a blue-collar working-class Mexican American community. Almost my entire familia, grandparents, aunts, uncles and my siblings live in this community.
How was life in your household?
I am the middle child of three. My mother and father met at Burbank High School in the South Side, where I later graduated in 1996. My mother raised us and my father was an aircraft engineer. He learned this occupation when he was drafted in 1969 to Vietnam. We had a pretty traditional family and household, and I definitely attribute my hardworking ethics and dedication to my upbringing.
Any artists in the family?
My great grandfather, Jose Maria Valdez, was an amazing painter from Mexico City. I never met him, but my grandparents hung all of his canvases throughout their house. This was definitely my introduction to art. Their small house was like my first museum trip, and I would often stand in the hallway staring at a beautiful life-size painting of La Virgen, which my great grandfather painted in 1940. It had Christmas lights decorated around it that were always turned on and lit up the piece. The art piece that struck me most was a very dark and violent portrait of a crucified Christ that was painted in 1885 by my great grandfather when he was a young man. I vividly remember the power that this image invoked in me and vowed to figure out how to do the same thing when I grew up. I have recently had these two paintings restored by conservators here in Texas. My grandparents promised to pass along his paintings to me when they pass.
When did you start drawing?
According to my parents, I began drawing around the age of three. Luckily, my mother saved EVERYTHING, so she has all of my earliest drawings. I know that by kindergarten, I recognized that my drawings looked different from everyone else, and by second grade, I was selling some of these things for a quarter a piece. By the time I was in fifth grade, my work increased in value and went up to a whole buck! I’ve always been fortunate in knowing from a very early age that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; I wanted to be an artist.
When did you start creating paintings?
I worked on my first mural at age ten and that’s when I met artist Alex Rubio who is also an amazing artist in San Antonio. Alex took me under his wing and became my mentor, and by age 14, I was designing, painting, and working as a paid muralist around San Antonio. Art has always been my only ‘real’ job. It was through my first drawings as a child and as a young muralist that I could say something with an image. An image can be so much more than just an image.
Where do your concepts come from? Sketch or photos?
My work is always conceived in my head first. The amazing thing about being a painter is that you almost have a third eye-the all-seeing eye. It is that thing that knows more than I do, it sees more than I, and it says more than I ever can. I am influenced a lot by cinema and music and the world around me. Many times I feel like a movie director, as I will sometimes stage these scenes that become paintings in my studio with characters that I really know such as my younger brother, Daniel Valdez, who has been a main character in much of my work.
How did you get the contract for the Ice Cream truck?
The legendary guitarist Ry Cooder hunted me down in San Antonio in 2005. He called me and told me about a Los Angeles neighborhood that once existed called “Chavez Ravine”. He then explained to me that he had seen my early painting “Kill the Pachuco Bastard!” that depicted a piece of untold American and Los Angeles history. Once he explained that he had this fanatical idea about having the godfathers of lowriding, The Dukes Car Club, build a 1953 Chevy / Good Humor Ice Cream truck that would be my canvas for this historical narrative, I was sold! I had no idea how I was going to do this, nor did I have any idea what I was getting myself into. Exactly two years later, I put my signature on the finished piece. The truck,”El Chavez Ravine”, has traveled a bit around the country for the past two years and was first exhibited at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA as part of the exhibit “Cruising the City of Angels” in 2007. This became an epic project for me, not only because of the time I invested into it, but because it is the only lowrider that I know of that is painted by hand with a brush and artist oil paints. Most importantly, I also felt like somewhat of an archeologist digging up a lost history that isn’t in the textbooks.
Cheech Marin owns one of your well-recognized pieces. How did that come about?
Cheech owns several pieces of mine. The zootsuit riot painting was the first piece that he purchased ten years ago. He recently purchased a portrait of Los Angeles that is burning at night.
What new projects do you have for the future?
I am currently in San Antonio for a while. I was living in Los Angeles for five years. It seems that every five years since I got out of high school, I pick up and relocate. This is one of the things that I enjoy most as an artist, making work in a new environment because my surroundings definitely help to reshape and recontextualize my work.
What galleries have your work been displayed at?
I have displayed my work in various galleries, museums, cities, and countries. They range from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to the Snite Museum at Notre Dame, to the Smithsonian in DC, from Paris, France, to Paris, Texas, and as far away as New Zealand.
How often do you create a new painting?
I tend to work as often as I can but I do work in phases. At times, I am a complete workaholic and i immerse myself into a studio bubble, and that is my world for a few months. After one of these intensive work periods, I will usually burn out for a bit and will spend a few weeks outside of the studio recovering. During this time, I enjoy doing my favorite activities such as playing my trumpet with Ollin (from East LA), listening to old vinyl records, playing video games, and cruising my all-original 1955 Ford Customline and my 1967 Mercury Cougar. The cougar was my mom’s very first car when she was 21 years old. My mom and dad got married in that car, and I rode to Kindergarten in that car. It took me about two years to restore it. Every inch of the car is original, which I am very proud of. The original rosary that my mother placed inside the car back in the day still dangles from the rearview mirror.
What types of media do you use?
I work mainly in traditional media, such as oil on canvas and various types of drawing mediums on a large scale: pastels, charcoal, and graphite. Most recently, I have completed my first two film projects this past spring. Since my work is already extremely cinematic, I was always curious in figuring out how to transform my still images into moving ones. My first film project is titled “BURN” and was a portrait of Los Angeles in 2009. The great thing about this piece was that it literally was a hypnotic portrait of the city with bursting fireworks over Dodger Stadium. About 100 ghost portraits appear floating in the sky at night over the city, burned into the memory of the city forever. The second film is titled “RECUERDO” and is a San Antonio portrait. I am now working on my first animation at this time.
Who do you look up to in the art community?
I look up to all artists in the community. It’s usually the artists who help maintain a community and keep its memories thriving and proud.
Any special thanks?
A special shout-out to LA from SA!
Would you like to share something with future artist?
Always Keep it Real, Always Keep it Low, and Always Keep it Slow.