Los Angeles artist Patssi Valdez has gained international attention in the last few years, primarily from her early performance work as a member of the group Asco. Asco was recognized in a major exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2011, Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987. Post-Asco, Valdez has had a very successful "second" career as a painter. I sat down with her earlier this week in her studio.
Patssi Valdez, Sunday, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 72" x 30"
JC: You've gotten quite a lot of attention in the last few years because of your participation in Asco. Let's talk about how you made the transition from the brassy performance-based political art you did with Asco to becoming a painter more focused on your internal world.
PV: Before I met the men that I worked with in Asco, I had grand ideas about being a great painter. But then I worked around Willie [Herrón] and Gronk and they seemed to paint so effortlessly while I had to struggle. I was not a good colorist at all, I couldn't mix color properly -- I always say that I made mud paintings. So that's why I worked in installation, performance, and all these other mediums.
JC: And yet my memory is that as a painter, in your first painting show at Pico House Gallery in 1989, you sprang full blown -- Athena from Zeus' head -- an accomplished painter right out of the box.
PV: When I got out of art school, where I focused primarily on photography, I started teaching kids at Plaza de la Raza and I had to give lessons. They asked me if I would teach painting, so of course I said yes -- I needed the job -- then I panicked and went to the library looking up assignments, how to mix primary colors -- and along the way I taught myself color theory.
Then one day I went to the David Hockney Retrospective at LACMA with a friend and I said, "I think I could do that." My friend thought it was the funniest thing, that I would have the nerve to say that! It was inspiring. It was like Truth or Dare. So I went home and bought all this paint and canvas and started on this body of work.
After I had finished a few, I thought "Ok. Who's the harshest critic in the world? Who's the friend that will tell you the truth and let you have it?" The answer was Gronk.
Patssi Valdez, The Crying Tree, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 60"
So I picked up the phone and called Gronk and told him I had something to show him. He came over and he was real quiet, pensive looking. All he said to me was "you need more paint." I thought, ok! That means they're not horrible, that means they passed the Gronk test, I think I can show them to the world.
I had done a lot of collage work and photography but nothing ever sold. I lived very frugally. Then I had that first painting show at Pico House, with no expectations of selling anything, and suddenly I had people coming up and asking how much was this painting? How much was that one? So many people were interested that I finally said "whoever gives me the check first gets the painting," and I went home with my little purse full of checks! That was the beginning of making money and selling my work. I never looked back. I was no longer in Asco, I was done with art school and I just forged ahead.
JC: What impact have the museum shows have had on you? Do you feel you have become mainstream?
PV: First of all, I feel it has legitimized me as an artist -- not as a woman artist or a Latina artist, but as an artist.
Have I entered the mainstream? I believe I haven't. Asco, maybe, but me individually as a painter, my real passion -- I'm hoping that someday I can have a major retrospective of my own. People don't know the whole range of my work. I'm an installation artist, I've been a performance artist, I was a photographer for ten years, I make short films, I do iPad drawings, I sculpt and I paint. I have all these bodies of work and my dream is to be able to see them together in one museum space at the same time. That's my dream. So, to the museum world out there: Can we start working on that, please? [laughing] While I'm still on planet Earth?
In the following video Patssi Valdez and Vyal Reyes transform a Lexus into a work of art.
JC: What's in your immediate future?
PV: I'm ready to start a new body of work. I have these big empty canvases and I'm reevaluating what I want to say and how I want to say it. I want to find a dealer, representation.
I didn't have to struggle financially for years, but when the economy tanked, and I was no longer with a gallery, that's when the trouble started. I had been on a roll for years. Now I'm struggling again. Thank god I have a couple of supporters who believe in me, who believe in me 100 percent. They make all the difference in the world.
My mother always says to me "you have all these angels daughter." And I say "don't I mother?"
Patssi's upcoming schedule:
Offramp Gallery, Pasadena, CA
November 18 - December 23, 2012
Patssi Valdez: Mementos (gouaches, ceramics and site-specific installation)
Opening Reception: Sunday, November 18, 2-5pm
Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico
ASCO: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987
03/21/2013 - 09/01/2013