John Valadez champions Chicano art

John Valadez champions Chicano art

Artist John Valadez explores Chicano culture in his exhibit "Santa Ana Condition" now showing at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.

Valadez, 62, from Los Angeles, earlier in his career captured low riders to cholos in photographs and translated much of the Chicano identity into paintings.

"I identified with the Chicano movement because I was becoming socially aware," Valadez told me in an interview this spring in Chicago. "I mixed my wanting to do artwork and becoming Chicano."

The exhibit is an overview of his art career and includes photographs and large-scale paintings.

He mentions early inspirations as Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. Early in his career, he would walk the streets of Los Angeles and look for people to photograph. He said he hoped to capture people that weren't seen, that were marginalized.

"I wanted to challenge people to really look at them," Valadez said.

He created much of that artwork on a large-scale because he also was influenced by the Mexican muralist movement. He also has painted murals.

Much of his more recent work is more allegorical with references to the drug war and also colonialism.

"I really try to transcend the elements in the piece," Valadez said.

One of the more graphic paintings is called "Pocho Crudo."

"It's about the drug violence at the border. It's about painting something that nobody wants to look at," Valadez said.

Valadez spoke about the meaning of the word Chicano, a term of politics and pride dating back to the late 1960s.

"It's a self-proclaimed idea," Valadez said. "It's self identity. It's how you label yourself."

He proudly still identifies as Chicano although many young Mexican-Americans no longer identify as such.

"In the beginning, we were young Mexican Americans trying to be artists and trying to be Chicano. Now we consider ourselves Chicano artists that do art. It kind of flipped on itself."

To experience the power and beauty of his Chicano art, visit the National Museum of Mexican Art, before the show closes on August 11, 2013.

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