Article first published in Forbes Monaco September 2022.
Manolo Valdés: ‘A single creation is not enough to tell the whole story.’
From September 15 to October 13, Opera Gallery Paris is showing Manolo Valdès: Recent Works, a monographic exhibition focused on the recent production of one of the most important Spanish artists on the contemporary art scene.
The exhibition transports us to the world of Manolo Valdés and his iconic figures, such as the heads with butterfly-adorned headdresses and the famous hat-wearing women. Botticelli’s figure of Clio, whose oval face is set among a geometry of flowers and beams, has certainly influenced the painter and sculptor. Valdés actualizes this ancient muse an inexhaustible source of inspiration—by putting her in conversation with various periods of art history.
Represented by Opera Gallery since 2015, 80-year-old Manolo Valdés is particularly known for his unique way of drawing inspiration from art history and his singular approach to forms, colors, materials and textures. Recognized as one of the leading artists of the contemporary scene, he has been exploring and revisiting the classics of art history for nearly 60 years, rightfully placing his work in the wake of the great masters who preceded him.
After enrolling in the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Valencia in 1957, where he met his future comrades of the Equipo Crónica collective, the young Valdés started his career as a painter. With the group Estampa Popular, Valdés used his art to criticize the dictatorship and art history. In 1964 he exhibited at the 16th Salon de la Jeune Peinture organized in Paris by Arroyo, Aillaud and Recalcati. Together with his two friends Rafael Solbes and Joan Antoni Toledo, he forms Equipo Crónica, whose aesthetic orientation was decidedly narrative in an era dominated by informal art and expressionism. The Spanish artists looked back then to American Pop Art, whose codes they adopted, but giving them a completely different dimension. Through the participation in numerous exhibitions, the collective acquired a reputation that transcended the borders of Spain.
“We had a very different challenge in front of us, because we were dealing with a very different political situation than the American artists. So, for us, pop was a way to engage in a political battle, but also to go out and oppose the dominant artistic trends associated with the informal,” the artist reflected many years later, in September 2015.
The death of his friend Solbes in 1981 led to the dissolution of the collective and Manolo Valdés pursued a solo career. From a fine connoisseur of art history, he became an “explorer,” now revisiting the masterpieces of the past. With Diego Velázquez he tackles the mysteries of the Les Ménines; with Pablo Picasso he echoes the geometry of the Cubists; with Henri Matisse he pays homage to the first Fauvist painting entitled Woman with Hat; and with Jan Van Eyck he reinterprets the genius of color and light through the self-portrait Man with Red Turban. In a few brush strokes, Valdés captures the lines and contours of an iconic image and thus revisits our classics in an almost obsessive way, giving them a touch of unprecedented modernity.
The figure of Velázquez’s Queen Mariana, with which the artist was already familiar from the days of Equipo Crónica, became a leitmotif. “What I enjoy most is repeating the same image and transforming it. A single creation is not enough to tell the whole story. As in photography, several shots are needed to tell a story,” the artist said in an interview with Le Figaro (May 2006).
Since the late 1970s, Valdés has transcended his iconoclastic art to transform his work into a true homage to the material. The extremely pure faces, basic lines and the color’s predominance over the form, reveal and demonstrate the artist’s talent and ability to navigate between figuration and abstraction. The figures, which radiate a sense of lightness, appear to float where lines, leading to the sky, encourage elevation.
From New York, where he has lived since 1990, Valdés still creates powerful works, experimenting and using unusual materials with expressive textures, which he has now mastered to perfection, such as jute, folded, sewn or smeared with paints or various materials such as tar. In Valdés, the strength of the symbol is matched by the harshness of the materials: all it takes is an eyebrow or the bridge of a nose to evoke a masterpiece of the past, to which is added, thanks to Valdés, a new modernity. The result is highly aesthetic and of great formal relevance.
With this new series Valdés intends to work with new references, more modern and abstract than his classical inspirations, which include Velázquez, with his famous Ménines, and Matisse with his collages.
The choice of subjects in Valdés is a clear reference to the modern period of art history while the aesthetics of the geometry of half-moons and squares give the work a contemporary touch. References to Constructivism and Kazimir Malevich are evident in his recent work Constructivismo como Pretexto II (2021) in which we can see a head surmounted by two squares on either side. For Valdés, this figure favored by Malevich, is a scientific form that is not natural but universal, a figure that allows others forms to be elaborated or constructed starting from it. The Spanish artist also uses the characteristic colors of Constructivism, white, red and black, the latter reserved for the emblematic figure of the square, where white symbolizes space.
Visitors will also be invited to experience the exhibition outside the gallery walls, thanks to Opera Gallery Paris’s collaboration with the Bristol, located a short walk from the gallery on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Four sculptures will be on display in the renowned Parisian hotel—two in the lobby, one at the entrance to the Épicure restaurant, and one on the terrace of one of the suites (this work will be not accessible to the public).
Like its sister gallery in Paris Monaco, Opera Gallery Monaco also sets itself apart by regularly installing 43 works in the Monegasque public space as an art complement to its 400 sqm unique location in the heart of the Principality’s Carré d’Or.
For ten years, Opera Gallery Monaco has been committed to sharing a percentage of the proceeds from its Masters Show with the Monegasque association Mission Enfance. The international solidarity association has been dedicated to children in distress for 30 years with a main focus on education.
Opera Gallery Monaco (1 avenue Henri Dunant, Palais de la Scala) is open during from Monday through Saturday, from 10 am to 8 pm and on Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.