A Conversation With Cesar Valdes
Colombian artist, Cesar Valdes’ new series ‘Familia y Tradición’ is an exploration of memories, mourning and loss, depicted through found photographs, appropriation of childhood nostalgia and fictional stories It is centered around the political turmoil of Colombia’s history.
Valdes has constructed new narratives from the reference photographs, which he rediscovered after many years of being hidden. Due to the disconnection between Valdes and the photographs, they have been stripped of their original context, which allows the imagery to be warped and abstracted, when recreated on canvas. This results in a prolonging sense of sombreness and draws the viewer back into their own memories, albeit in an reconceptualized way.
The political instability in Colombia’s history has had a great affect on it’s citizens, whether they were directly involved or not. Violence and turmoil was a reality that every Colombian was subjected to. Although the political climate has now stabilized, it took many years before the events of the previous century were spoken about and discussed in a free and comfortable environment. Many stories from the past are beginning to come out today, which is reflected in Valdes’ current series.
Furthermore, in the digital age, social media and technology have the power to rule our lives. It allows us to heavily curate our public image, to put forward an abstract, filtered version of who we are and what we think the best possible version of ourself is. We often don't or won’t look at pictures which depict personal grief or loss, as it can be too painful to be reminded of tragic times. Valdes believes that revisiting painful memories is necessary in order for us to truly know who we are, to allow ourselves to heal and move forward.
I am interested to know more about your cultural background & how it influenced this current series.
I saw a lot of paintings as a child, which I would try to recreate. In Columbia, religious themed paintings are very common, but before the Columbian revolution, many artists were anonymous. The first art school in Colombia started after the revolution, it began with paintings from botanical expeditions and slowly allowed for more creative freedom.
Are the images you have used for reference all found photographs, or have you used photos from your own childhood? What drew you to these particular images?
Many of the photographs I found in boxes in my Grandmother’s closet. I also found some from friends or on the street. I didn't want to just copy the photos, I would put myself inside of them, I would also focus on different parts of the photograph, like the faces. But the creative process is different for each one.
One painting that really struck me was of the baby smoking the cigarette, it initially looked like an innocent portrait of a toddler until I noticed the cloud of smoke coming from his hand. Can you tell me a bit about this particular piece?
This image allowed me to return to the oil medium. It represents something I’ve missed in my childhood, the presence of my father. It is heavily inspired by my father. He has left a hole in my life as I don’t have his presence anymore. I hold onto the memories and details. He worked with tobacco and smoked a lot around me as a child. I will continue to explore the memory of my father in my work.
Something that i noticed were the images of young boys, many of these paintings look intentionally unfinished, almost like a metaphor for their childhood being taken from them. Was this your intention?
With these images, I went as far as I felt I needed to go, to allow the viewer to construct the rest of the image for themselves. The void is important.
Based on the sombre nature of the paintings, it seems like you are suggesting that revisiting painful memories from our past is necessary for us to truly know who we are?
Oil painting brings many possibilities to me, It allows me to make fantasies possible. To reconstruct memories, not exactly how they happened, but it’s good for me.
Tell me about your experience in New York and working out of the Kunstraum studio.
In New York, I love the seasons. They change so much throughout the year. Winter is very different here than Colombia. I like the idea of hibernation in winter. When I was looking for a studio space in New York with my girlfriend, I needed a space to work in intimacy. We came here and we chose it. It was all I needed in this moment. it was quiet, with the snow and the other people who worked here. It’s communal but everyone is in their own world. I needed the silence to surround myself with my images. I feel like it’s a little version of my own place in Colombia.