Written by Paul Kharmats
Giovanni Valderas can't shake his love for Gomer Pyle, piñatas, or black beans and rice. This may not be immediately apparent from the works he produces—intricately assembled wooden frameworks sutured together by black tape, overlaying painted figures of raccoons, human faces, or colorful cloth abstract shapes—but each of these specters of Valderas' past contributed in some way to animating his pieces, and a crowd had gathered to find out how.
Dallas-based Valderas' work, along with that of Lance MacMahan and Roxana Tuff (both of Austin, TX), is currently being shown in an exhibition entitled "Particularly These" at BLUEorange Contemporary Art Gallery, 1208 West Gray. On Sunday, March 9th, Valderas participated in a panel discussion with BLUEorange's co-directors, the sibling duo of Megan and Jacob Spacek (MacMahan and Tuff were unable to attend). The discussion and accompanying potluck brunch, presented by Suplex Projects in conjunction with BLUEorange, invited guests to bring along an heirloom dish to share, in an effort to examine the relationship between food, memory, and cultural identity.
The resulting spread featured a selection of fantastic dishes, varying from Mexican-inspired tortilla casserole to pierogis, potato latkes, and Grandma Spacek's famous Italian stuffing. Naturally, no brunch would be complete without a freely flowing stream of mimosas.
After the guests had settled in with their dishes, panel moderator Rachel Vogel began by posing a series of questions regarding inspiration, artistic process, and the relationship between art making and personal identity.
The invisible supports behind the works of art—60's TV shows, folklore, indigenous animals—came to the fore, allowing the audience a rare glimpse into the creative process.
So often, gallery attendees are left to wonder why an artist chose to use a particular technique, a particular color scheme, or material. After hearing Giovanni Valderas' story of attempting to reconnect to his Guatemalan roots, it became easy to recognize traces of traditional trajes and huipils in the patterns of bold reds, whites, pinks, and blues in some of his pieces. What may have previously appeared as a series of sticks held together with tape takes on a completely new meaning as a repurposing of the techniques used in traditional piñata making.
Valderas spoke of the freedom he felt in his work after finishing his graduate degree, and how without anyone to tell him what to do, he was able to delve into issues of personal identity in his work as he tried to relate to the experiences of his mother during her life in Guatemala.
"I got so tired of black beans and rice—I felt like it was all we ate back then," Valderas said of his youth. "But now that I'm out on my own and don't get to eat it as much, I really miss it."
"In a way, every work an artist creates is a self-portrait."
With those words, Giovanni Valderas cut to the heart of the reason why the crowd had assembled at BLUEorange that Sunday. On some level, these words are an aphorism. But with the myriad works of art we encounter in our lives, it can be helpful to remember that everything artists create is informed by a totally unique set of experiences. Something as simple as the food they ate as a child, or stories their mothers told them—even the stories their mothers chose not to tell them.
"Particularly These" runs through March 22nd at BLUEorange.