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Painter Julio Valdez: In the Same Path as the Sun

05/18/2010 10:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rarely have I been speechless when I walk into an exhibition. I will admit my favorite color is blue, I work with children around the world, and as a child myself, I would spend my summers floating in the warm, womb-like ponds of the White Mountains. But the latest aqua paintings of Julio Valdez really touched me.

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Dreaming Boy, 2009. Oil and ink on rice paper mounted on linen. 57 1/8 x 61 1/8 inches.

The new works by Julio Valdez that opened this weekend at the June Kelly Gallery in SoHo were more spectacular than I had expected. Perhaps their large size added to the awe. The exhibition is entitled "In the Same Path as the Sun." It was great to re-connect with Julio. He explained to me about the concept behind his show:

The title of my exhibition makes reference to the second line of the popular poem about the Dominican Republic "There is a Country in the World," by Pedro Mir.

In 1949 Pedro Mir - living in exile in Havana, Cuba - published his poem Hay un País en el Mundo, a beautiful chant to his land. This has become the best known poem written by a Dominican author. The author was declared National Poet Laureate by the Dominican Congress in 1984.

Poetry and music have always nurtured my creative visual explorations. Reflecting on the sentiment, the general "mood" of this particular "national" poem, helps me to ground the subject matter in a more open, universal dialogue with the viewer, while remaining true to my cultural heritage.

In the Same Path as the Sun is also the title of the very first two (2) water paintings I did in the summer of 2004. These works opened a new formal exploration of my painting process, which I continue to expand in these new paintings. In order to minimize the brushwork and have a more fluid representation when exploring the "space" of painting, I have been using very thin layers of richly pigmented oils, inks and acrylics over varied surfaces, such as rice paper on linen, Styrene plastic and Mylar (a kind of synthetic paper).

This combination of the "old" technique of oil painting, over the "new," more contemporary surfaces, allows me to create a sense of light and space that visually echoes the contradictions of the Caribbean region. I could say that in my recent work, I am interested in creating a spacial uncertainty, a sense of time not yet defined.

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Niño Soñando II (Dreaming Boy II), 2009. Oil and ink on linen. 41 x 42 inches.

Below is a fragment of the long poem by Pedro Mir, which Julio says sometimes reminds him of the Canto General of Pablo Neruda and the work of Derek Walcott:

There is a country in the world

situated
right in the sun's path.
A native of the night.

Situated
in an improbable archipelago
of sugar and alcohol.
Simply light,
like a bat's wing
leaning on the breeze.

Simply bright,
like the trace of a kiss on an elderly maiden
or daylight on the roof tiles.

Simply fruitful. Fluvial. And material.
And yet simply torrid, abused and kicked
like a young girl's hips.

Simply sad and oppressed.
Sincerely wild and uninhabited...

I first met Julio in 2004 at his 106th Street studio. I was impressed with his works then and wanted to see how he had progressed over the years. Julio was born in Santo Domingo 41 years ago.

Julio's paintings are held in public collections by El Museo del Barrio (N.Y.), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (San Juan), Museo de Arte Moderno (Santo Domingo), Ministry of Culture (Santo Domingo), World Bank Art Collection (D.C.), and Library of Congress (D.C.), among many others.

Julio graduated from the National School of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo and then went on to the American School of Altos de Chavόn School of Design, affiliated with the Parsons School here in New York. The show opened with Julio's book signing May 14 and runs through June 15.

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Aquiles: el Corazón cayó al mar (The Heart Fell Into the Sea), 2007. Archival pigment

print, hand coloring on Nylon. Reinforced paper on Styrene on wood. 40 x 48 inches.

It was my first time in June's Mercer Street gallery. I found it both spacious and intimate. I met June and was immediately at ease with her gracious hospitality. June told me:

I was drawn to the paintings of Julio Valdez by his deep attachment to his roots in the tropical Caribbean island where he was born and his strong affinity for the traditions and conventions of contemporary art. Valdez is a master in his handling of colors and their application to the canvas.

His paintings give us a world where nature and consciousness mingle, where the sensuality of the tropics meets the isolation of the island dweller, and where dreams of travel to distant lands are tempered by the powerful emotional bonds of home.

I also recognized his unrelenting determination to create paintings that meet his aesthetic objectives and standards.

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Self-Portrait with Fish Mask, 2008-09. Oil and ink on linen. 59 x 59 inches.

Julio has exhibited often in New York and East Hampton, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills in California, New Orleans, as well as Quebec, Guatemala City, San Juan, and Panama City. His group exhibitions have included:

2009. Creative Dialogues: Latin American Printmakers,
Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Norwalk, CT.

2009. Hidden Gems: Works on Paper, June Kelly Gallery, New York.

2008. Silk Aquatint: Painterly Graphics, Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York.

2007. Art of Collecting, Flint Institute of Arts, MI.

2007. ReGrouping: Three Generations of Latin American Artists in New York,
Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York.

2006. ¡Merengue! Visual Rythms, El Museo del Barrio, New York

2006.This Skin I'm In: Contemporary Dominican Art from
El Museo del Barrio's Permanent Collection
, New York.

2006. Transplant/Transculture, Wave Hill Glyndor Gallery, Riverdale, New York.

2006. Silk Aquatint: Painterly Graphics, Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Norwalk, CT.

The June Kelly Gallery was founded in 1986, specializing in contemporary paintings, drawings, sculpture, and photography. The gallery represents work by a diverse group of emerging, mid-career and established artists, many of whom have achieved international recognition and acclaim.

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The author with the painter Julio Valdez and his 11-year old son and model, Joshua.

Photo: Roberto Calasanz.

Exhibitions by gallery artists have received numerous reviews in leading publications that cover the art world, including ARTnews, Art in America, The New York Times, and Sculpture Magazine. The artists themselves have also been profiled in those publications, and the gallery was featured in a cover story in Art + Auction magazine.

Before opening the gallery, June Kelly managed the career of artist Romare Bearden for 13 years until his death in 1988. During this period June was involved with exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, arranging touring exhibitions and negotiating public art commissions.

The June Kelly Gallery is located at 166 Mercer Street below Houston; e-mail.

See other stories by Jim Luce:

El Museo del Barrio: Fifth Avenue on Fire

The Rubins on "What is Cuban Art?"

Voces y Visiones: Four Decades of El Museo del Barrio's Permanent Collection

Annabella Gonzalez Dance Troup Presents Spring Series Juntos, Featuring "Unidos" (Together)

Mario Vargas Llosa on the End of the Incan Empire at the Americas Society