In Conversation with Kiki Valdes: 'Riding Dualism', his Solo Exhibit Debut in New York
Kiki Valdes, a Miami native, is a semi-abstract painter who presents a rich and visually-enticing solo exhibit titled 'Riding Dualism', now on view through November 30th at The National Arts Club in New York City. In this new series, Valdes explores the power of duality from both a personal and historical context. 'Riding Dualism' examines aspects such as Valdes' Cuban heritage/American identity, the multi-generational relationship between a grandfather/grandson, city life/country life, American cowboys/Spanish bullfighters, and The American Frontier/Native Americans, etc. Here in his own words, Valdes shares revelatory insight on his current exhibit, his significant use of cartoon imagery, and plans for next month during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Gallery Gurls: In your current show 'Riding Dualism', there are so many fascinating elements that you touch upon such as the American West, heroism, masculinity,and cowboy culture. What are the dualities that you’re exploring? You also spent a month in Arizona recently, did the landscape and geography of Southwest impact your work in any way?
Kiki Valdes: I think it all started with a photograph of my grandfather that was taken in the 1940's in rural Cuba. It's a striking photo. He was a cowboy with a baby bull, his pistol and guajiro stance. In 2006 he passed away and I kept two dollars from his wallet that I keep in my wallet and one of his cowboy hats that I wear out from time to time. When I went to Arizona in April for a show I stayed for an entire month with a great guy named Steve Hanson. He collects contemporary art and some Southwestern art. So, I learned a lot when I stayed with him. One day in Cave Creek, AZ I spoke to a custom cowboy hat maker that told me my grandfather’s hat was the ‘open road’ style from the early 1950's. It originated in the Southwest. I cried right there at the store when he told me, I felt a very spiritual connection to the desert earth and where my family comes from. So, for me the duality really starts with the double cultures of the Cuban/Spanish and the American/Native. Then I started thinking of cosmopolitan life and rural life. High art and low art. Conservative art and Progressive art. Abstraction versus figuration. I started thinking of Thomas Hart Benton and his relationship with Jackson Pollock. How they were both making American art at the same period...but from two very different perspectives. I thought of Picasso and bullfights and how that is a very Spanish and Mexican thing. I wanted to find a very American thing that I love...and I thought the rodeo was something very important to American history. I wanted to play with parody and see what all of these things meant against each other - art history, abstraction, cartoons , the lawless West and American cowboy myths and legends. The desert and colors played a huge role on the paintings. In this city you worry about getting run over by a taxi or avoiding weirdos on the street. The desert to me was so different. There was a certain level of danger with nature. It felt like a freedom I never felt before.
In your previous show 'The Valdeziacs' there is this sort of deviant, twisted approach to classic American cartoon icons that I love. I interpreted satire and cynicism and it's relation to modern pop-culture. What message were you communicating through these pieces?
That show was last year and I was playing with duality as well. I was curious about modernism and abstraction and pulling in a familiar thing like cartoons. I wanted to paint something familiar enough where people would think of Nickelodeon and Gorky at the same time. I guess it was just about painting for me really. How could I play with master paintings such as ‘The Scream’ using Ren and Stimpy. That was sort of what the works were loosely based on. I think I used the Stimpy-like character because I like cats and also people tend to confuse the paintings with other characters from Disney and Warner Brothers. It was more open-ended using that character so it could be any cartoon to anyone. It was not specific enough. But yeah, it was more about painting for me, I did not want to investigate narratives or anything too much. I was using the cartoon as a still-life to deconstruct and take it apart as I wanted, this imaginary object was a starting point for the painting.
"I was curious about modernism and abstraction and pulling in a familiar thing like cartoons. I wanted to paint something familiar enough where people would think of Nickelodeon and Gorky at the same time."
You originally hail from Miami but you now live and work between Miami, New York and New Jersey. As a young emerging artist how are you currently navigating the contemporary art landscape?What differences do you notice between the New York and Miami art markets?
New York is the center of painting in the U.S. Miami's scope of painters is rather limited. Some great art comes out of Miami but it is not enough to stimulate my appetite or growth. I am not only speaking from a contemporary art standpoint, I’m referring to a historical context as well. At any given moment I can study a master painting from El Greco or Matisse up close and personal. At this current point in my life I need up close and personal references to push my ideas and techniques. So, New York is very good for visual resources. Miami is home on a very different level. It's my hood. It's my family and it does fuel things in artists in a way I can't put into words. I like both places for different reasons. As far as markets or whatever, people have known me longer in Miami. So, my name is a little bit more familiar and known. Friends look out for me like I'm a baseball team coming home after the season.
"Miami is home on a very different level. It's my hood. It's my family and it does fuel things in artists in a way I can't put into words."
With Art Basel Miami Beach right around the corner, what are your plans next month? Are there any fairs or special projects that you'll be a part of that we can look out for?
This year I am not doing anything at an art fair. So, I decided it would be a fun idea to show a selection of work from a few different years at a loft in Midtown Miami, basically on the same street as some of the other popular fairs, such as Art Miami, Context, Miami Project etc. At first, I thought maybe it would be cool to do a group show...then I realized I have so many different paintings that I could make each area of the loft look like it could be different artist or just a different approach in general I guess. I thought that was just a better idea for it. It gives me some freedom to show different things that I've been wanting to share. I will be showing collage work I've never shown, drawings and paintings from 2007-2008 and things from this past year. I think it will be around 35-40 paintings and drawings. The event 'Paintings in a Loft' will take place Saturday, Dec 6th from 2pm-4pm at Midtown 4 in Miami, all details are available on my Facebook page.