Last week I met Fred Valentine at Sometimes (the gallery is only open on Wednesdays, Fridays and by appointment) where he has an exhibition of remarkably inventive and sophisticated new work. A painter for more than forty years, Valentine isn't interested in the ongoing debate about painting-as-object or painting strategies in the post-mortem (painting supposedly being dead) era. Instead, he conjures images from his imagination.
Fred Valentine, Curior than I, 2013.A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Valentine has roots in the 1970s Chicago Imagist scene that included Jim Nutt and Roger Brown, swaggeringly shameless picture painters who famously embraced human flaws and misadventure when the rest of the artworld had turned toward a more austere Minimalist sensibility. In his new work, Valentine paints figures, landscapes, and abstracts with gusto, exploring memory, trauma, and existential angst while employing outrageous humor and image quotation to skirt his own admitted sentimentality.
For Valentine, every painting has distinct personal and social components. In Grieving Father, for instance, he seems to deprecate both his own alarm over malevolence and mortality and the inability of contemporary painters to address the larger issues facing humanity. Yet he still feels compelled to record his emotional life, though with a kind of wry modesty, perhaps because he understands that paintings are no longer necessary to convey horrors or record significant experiences.
Distressed by images of fathers holding their injured children in news reports about Middle East bombings, Valentine had several of his artist friends pose for the "Grieving Father" paintings. In the painting on display, Valentine cloaks his emotional response to the news reports in an exaggerated, cartoonish surrealism, a strategy that raises interesting questions about the uncomfortable position emotion holds in contemporary painting. (Image above: Fred Valentine, Grieving Father)
Despite Valentine's emphasis on image, the surfaces are lumpy and tactile. In contrast to so much work being produced today, Valentine often spends years on a painting before it leaves the studio. (Image above: Fred Valentine, Lifesize)
A master quoter, Valentine sometimes includes the illusion of a frame as part of the image. He isn't painting a Romantic landscape, he's painting an image of a Romantic landscape. The one pictured above is based on a memory of a place he remembers visiting as a kid. (Image above: Fred Valentine, Memory Painting)
In the side gallery, don't miss the small abstractions. Amused by the recent craze for bad abstraction, Valentine has gleefully made a series that depicts "mindless" abstract paintings. Naturally, Valentine's attempts at mindlessness are impressively thought-provoking. (Image above: Fred Valentine, Untitled abstract picture)
This superb show is small, but the content is meaty and quietly impassioned, offering penetrating ideas and perspectives, particularly about the diminished role that emotion and sentimentality play in contemporary painting. Thanks, Fred.
"Fred Valentine," Sometimes (works of art), Lower East Side, New York, NY. Extended through July 19, 2013. Open Wednesdays, Fridays and by appointment. The gallery doesn't have a website, so for more info, call (212) 431-2652 or (646) 714-7470. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Valentine hearts painting (2012)
Talking about his art: Fred Valentine (2011)
Peter Scott's two-part disappearance and James Siena's Sometimes (2012)