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Leo Valledor @ Brian Gross

Redwing, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 64 x 119"

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. 

After moving to New York from San Francisco in 1962, the Filipino-American artist quickly became one of Minimalism’s leading lights, eliciting comparisons to Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Leon Polk Smith and many others.  His paintings, like theirs, assert unbridled optimism with full-on graphic force.   
Color Space, a sampling of that work, shows Valledor in his prime, from 1965 to 1980, applying hard-edge geometric forms to shaped canvases and, later, to more conventionally shaped supports, as was the trend among most of his cohorts. Unlike Stella, the artist to whom he is often compared, Valledor worked exclusively on canvases that were two-dimensional, with the painted parts often tracking or mirroring the shapes of the wall-hugging supports. Where Stella trafficked in illusionism with Op-ish forms rendered in eye-popping colors, Valledor used strong color to parse two-dimensional space, the rhythms of which have been compared to those of jazz, the music he heard growing up in the Fillmore District in the 1950s.
Lust, 1975, acrylic on canvas; 108 x 120"

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”.

The best example in this show of Valledor doing something similar is a rectangular triptych called The Promise (1980).  It employs primary colors and interpenetrating geometric shapes to create forms that hint at architectural space but don’t allow entry into it; what happens instead is a kind of mental mambo step in which we traverse the space implied by the division of those colors into discrete interpenetrating, “rooms”.  It’s a singular experience, and easily the most memorable piece in this sumptuous, spaciously hung show. 
The Promise, 1980, acrylic on canvas, three panels, 48 x 144"
Valledor may not be a marquee name today, but he certainly was during his lifetime. Color Space, with a mere half dozen paintings, demonstrates why, and it whets the appetite for more.
Leo Valledor: “Color Space” @ Brian Gross Fine Art through March 5, 2016.  

One Response to “Leo Valledor @ Brian Gross”

  1. WORD 2 U. (R.I.P.) ~ Leo Valledor and Carlos Villa are cousins in our family tree. Prime Time…..It’s About Time. Thank you for this intelligent review of Leo’s work.


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