The art of Leo Valledor (1935-89) pulls us back to an era in American history when soaring tail fins, beehive hairdos, interstate highways and space travel signaled America’s emerging hegemony in almost every important area of human endeavor. In visual art, Pop and Minimalism were its emblems, the latter becoming painting’s dominant form by the mid-1960s and the point at which the world encountered Valledor.
To be valid, that comparison needs a little fine tuning. When jazz is spoken of in relation painting, it usually means bebop, a florid, passionate language that gave soloists unprecedented freedom. Abstract Expressionism, in its action painting phase, did the same, using bodily gestures to communicate emotional and psychic states. Minimalism, when it arrived in the 1960s, did away with all that. It was all about formal, rigid structures and anti-illusionistic surfaces. Thus, a better musical analogy for Valledor might be Latin jazz, a distinct, but related subspecies. Valledor probably didn’t hear much of it while growing up in San Francisco, but in New York he surely could have, and the similarities between the underlying structures of that music and his art are striking, the most prominent overlapping aspects being the interlocked rhythmic patterns over which soloists improvise, and the stabbing brass and woodwind blasts that answer their “calls”.