Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Fred Valentine made his wryly haunting charcoal chiaroscuro drawings of real people “some sweet and tender others damaged and horrific” – on view in “The Pumpkin Festival and other portraits” at Schema Projects in Bushwick – in the early 1990s. That was when Kurt Cobain and kindred spirits’ croaking about happiness forsworn, and whatever twisted substitutes could be conjured, became part of the zeitgeist. Accidentally or intentionally, Valentine’s sad, elegant drawings of people in darkness struggling for light fit nicely into that cultural warp.
[Image at top: Fred Valentine, The Pumpkin Festival, charcoal on paper, large drawing.]
Most of the drawings are titled only with initials. Especially on the money (though not at all on the nose) is one such large piece that presents a petulant young man’s face tearing into the dark surface of the paper from below, near what might be a razor blade and some misspelled words. The imagery echoes grunge’s vibe of frustration and incapacity by dint of neglect and marginalization, and also more specifically imports the brooding proximity of drugs, suicide, and educational futility.
The title drawing of a Raggedy-Ann-ish little girl herself holding a doll – apparently based on the artist’s daughter – is less dire (image at top of post). But it too suggests the fraught nature of parenthood in its solemnly quizzical portrayal of children: as partially obscured sources of parents’ own vulnerability that paradoxically require their greatest strength.
All of Valentine’s subjects are presented as slightly disoriented, not quite fitting in the dark space from which they seem to escape or the surface they purport to occupy, unable to fully form and somehow muted by their limbo. Save for the lucky few with genuinely charmed lives, everyone feels that way sometimes. Valentine captures this anti-nirvana reality with skill and panache, depth and compassion.
“Fred Valentine: The Pumpkin Festival and other Portraits,” Schema Projects, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through February 28, 2016.
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Tags: Jonathan Stevenson