By Cid Reyes
“Since I had worked in factories and made parts of automobiles and had worked on telephone lines, I saw a chance to make a sculpture in a tradition I was already rooted in.” Those words were said by the American sculptor David Smith (1906-1965), who was a pioneer in abstract and geometric sculpture, inspired by the works of Picasso and Julio Gonzalez, who became progenitors of the so-called assemblage, or sculpture made from various unrelated materials.
The idea of working in a tradition in which an artist is alred “rooted in” comes to mind with the 7th solo show of Valen Valero, now on view at Renaissance Art Gallery. One might say that the scumptural roots of Valero grew in the fertile soil of the family business. The Valeros are engaged in electricity distribution, managing the La Union Electric Company, which serves the threr towns of La Union, San Juan, and Bauang. The young artist thus grew up with an encompassing awareness of the presence and value of electricity.
Not surprising then that this show should be titled, and appropriately so, “Electric Dreams.” Valero presents free-standing and wall sculptures, paintings, and chairs, which are all imbued with an imagination fired as it were by the concept of electricity. Making its striking appearance and presence is the ubiquitous electric meter, or what we call “contador.” A recording instrument of the electricity consumed, it transcends its functional role and assumes guises that lend unexpected surrealist tones. Like a previously palpitating heart, it now lies, or hangs, inert within the jazzy and jangly sculptural configurations of Valero.
The free-standing works, “The Thinker” and “Electro Chemistry” are, to my mind, stand-outs. With the sculptor’s playful but logistical engagement with her materials, the viewer immediately senses the empathy generated by the works’ references. “The Thinker” is, as must be known to is an homage to the famous bronze work of the French sculptor Rodin, A skulking over-life size figure of a naked man, deep in thought, it was originally conceived as part of Rodin’s “Gates of Hell,” a sculptural narrative of Dante’s Inferno. In Valero’s own rendition of the subject, she assembles various fragments of industrial materials, steely and metallic grids and lattices and spangled wires, locked together, emblematic of a human figure. The use of such materials – which one American sculptor graphically described as “defeated” – derives from the practice of the art movement known as “arte povera” or impoverished art. A more dignified term that has been used is “non-privileged” materials such as wood, paper, rags and stones. Again, like her subject, Valero has done her own serious thinking how best to animate her materials. In a witty gesture, she has seen fit to append a shelf for coffeetable books, essential food for thought for “The Thinker.”
The sculpture “Electro Chemistry”, on the other hand, suggests an ironing board, with sly overtones of electric consumption generated by the presence of an electric meter. It conveys an authentic sense of domesticity, itself a theme loaded with controversial implications. Painted in sleek black, red, and white, the electric meter this time looms less like a heart than a cranium or skull, the brain recording and registering dark, diurnal activities.
Wall sculptures or reliefs, such as “Voltage,” “Magnetic Flux,” and “Electric Dreams” employ the collage technique, whether of planes of wood or layers of metal grids. The result is always an equilibrium of tension and repose, balance and asymmetry, with enough improvisatory panache as to constitute a well-integrated piece.
By her own admission, Valero has always been fascinated by chairs. As an object, it is of enduring interest. As such, it would serve us well to assess this piece of furniture so common as to elude its significance. In the book on the subject, authored by Judith Miller, we read: “In Western culture the definition of a chair is a seat with a back designed for a single person. This differentiates it from a stool, which is backless, and also from benches, settees and other forms of elongated seating intended to support more than one individual. Chairs are invariably raised above the ground, usually but not always on legs, and are also movable.” In this show, Valero creates both chairs and stool, uniquely invested with her flowing “appliques” consisting of fabric inscribed with the strangely intriguing conflation of a multitude of congested alphabets and numbers, intentionally unreadable and blending into a blur.
Interestingly, the Miller book carries a foreword by the famed designer Terence Conran, which is precisely addressed to designers like Valero: “Chairs are not just for sitting on, and many are diabolically uncomfortable because their designers have ignored the basic principles of ergonomics. To me this is unintelligent design. A lot of chairs have become indoor sculpture, and in many cases the architects who have designed them have promoted their brand through the design of their chairs – for example, Corbusier, Saarinen, Eames, Alvar Aalto, Gio Ponti, Arne Jacobsen, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe. Sometimes I think that you are unlikely to be a successful architect or designer unless you have designed a classic chair.” The public is now invited to judge if Valero has created her own classic chair. Please take your seat.
Valero is what one may call “an accidental artist.” Though she has always painted as a hobby, her first interest was the culinary arts. She graduated with a degree in Food Technology at the O.B. Montessori College. But by a “brushstroke” of luck, a friend once saw her paintings, liked them, and was able to sell them. She took active part in joining many group exhibitions. In 2012, she even took up art studies at the famed Art Students League in New York.
On this her 7th solo show, Valen Valero’s “electric dreams” have become a reality.