Troubled symbolism

By GREG COOK  |  November 13, 2013

A CRYPTIC MEMORIAL The portrait "John."

John is a portrait from his 2012 series memorializing “my best friend since childhood,” an army combat medic who died in Iraq in 2009. Valdez says, “He passed away not from combat, but suicide. He suffered from PTSD”—post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a head and shoulders depiction of a man in camouflage helmet and fatigues in front of a gray smoking sky.

“That’s the last time I ever saw John. I snapped a photo of him in front of his mother’s house in full combat gear,” Valdez says. “There’s a very important hidden symbol. . . When soldiers are in combat they where a black flag patch.” So when Valdez paints the US flag on his shoulder red, white, and blue, he means to signal that “he’s amidst smoke and fire and explosions, but he’s here at home.”

It’s a subject so close to Valdez’s heart, but the tone of the painting is detached, the key symbolism cryptic.

Valdez’s style of highly detailed contemporary realism is unusual in the fine art world today, but prominent in lowbrow galleries and publications like Juxtapoz magazine. As in that work, Valdez’s obviously, impressively skilled technique can look wicked cool. But he doesn’t often grab your soul. It’s something about his symbolism — at times too obvious, at times too black and white, at times too obscure.

Follow Greg Cook on Twitter @AestheticResear.
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