John Valadez's latest paintings and pastels continue his exploration of the Chicano "condition" through portraits, decaying cityscapes and surreal historical allegories. Well known for his political murals and documentation of downtown street life, Valadez fuses painterly detail with a broad narrative sweep that can be by turns universal and incisively particular.
His strength lies in his ability to create a dialectic between the viewer and apparently alien subjects. Injecting images of real Chicanos and the back alleys of the "other" Los Angeles into the white middle-class gallery milieu not only helps break down stereotypes, but also underlines the real difference between aesthetics and racial politics.
This strategy works particularly well in "Savages and Glitter," a confrontational banner that juxtaposes an Indian tribal war dance with a montage of loosely rendered Chicano bandits shackled by diamond bracelets instead of handcuffs. History as fine art is infiltrated by the Realpolitik of potential freedom, while in turn the revolutionary is tainted and aggrandized by an aesthetic deceit.
Valadez treads such a thin line between social didacticism and self-criticism that his work occasionally topples into obvious preachiness. "Young Aristocrat," for example, with its pastiche of 18th-Century portraiture, contrasts the carefree privilege of the rich with a vignette of a working-class boy looking on with isolated impotence. In this case, white clearly signifies privilege, ethnicity oppression--a simplistic equation that is fortunately absent from most of Valadez's work. (Lizardi/Harp Gallery, 290 W. Colorado Blvd., to March 31.)