Opera Gallery Dubai is celebrating its 10th anniversary by presenting the work of renowned Spanish artist Manolo Valdés in his first exhibition in the region. The artist is known for his paintings and sculptures, especially for his monumental public artworks that have been installed at locations such as Place Vendome in Paris, Park Avenue in New York, the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia and Orchard Road in Singapore.
Valdés was born in 1942 in Valencia, Spain. In the 1960s, along with artists Rafael Solbes and Juan Toledo, he founded the art collective Equipo Cronica, which emerged as an important pop-art movement in Spain during the politically turbulent Franco years by creating political works that were accessible to the masses.
A few years after Toledo’s death in 1981, Valdés moved to New York, where he is still based. Through his experimentation with various media and materials — ranging from paintings on burlap to sculptures with epoxy painted bronze — he has developed a distinct visual language that blends the past with the present and references art history with a contemporary twist.
Valdés is showcasing more than 25 works in Dubai that include new paintings and sculptures as well as small scale versions of some of his iconic sculptures. The paintings feature pieces of painted wood and mirrors fixed on wooden board and feminine faces inspired by the paintings of Matisse. While some of the sculptures are three-dimensional versions of figures in famous paintings by Velazquez, others feature abstract feminine heads with elaborate headdresses, or surrounded by butterflies, ferns or abstract lines, made from steel, aluminium, alabaster, brass and bronze.
The artist is also presenting four sculptures made from brass gilded with 24 carat gold, created especially for Dubai. In addition, five monumental sculptures by the artist are displayed at various locations in DIFC and will be on show for one year as part of DIFC’s public art integration programme.
Valdés spoke to the Weekend Review about his life and work. Excerpts:
How does it feel to have your work displayed in Dubai, especially in the public areas of DIFC?
So far, I have seen my work in public spaces in classic art centres such as the Place Vendome in Paris or Park Avenue in New York. I am very excited to see it in a new place that I am just discovering because the work has a fresh reading in this new world due to the influence of the local environment and culture.
As an artist, I want my work to integrate well with the environment and for people to interact with it and enjoy it, and I hope everybody will relate to the imagery in my work. I am always surprised by the dialogue my sculptures establish with their surroundings. In a cactus garden in Arizona they became too hot to even touch, while in St Petersburg they were covered with snow, and in Finland they acquired a beautiful glow in the night light. I would love to see how they look in Dubai after a sandstorm.
Do you keep the location in mind when creating a public artwork?
My works are created to be displayed in more than one location. In each space they can be read differently, and by incorporating the reflection of the viewers and surroundings they take on a new life in every location. I think that the scale is more important than the location for an outdoor sculpture. A work should not be too small or too big for the location, so that it can invite people to come closer and interact with it. I like creating such works because they are seen by a wide audience, including people who do not go to art galleries, and interpreted differently by every viewer. For example, in 2010, I had an exhibition in New York with the works installed all along Broadway Avenue, and I found that visitors to the Opera House saw references to Matisse in my abstract figures, whereas in Harlem people associated the hats on my figures with pop icon, Lady Gaga.
Where do the ideas for your paintings and sculptures come from?
I am like a hunter chasing images and ideas wherever I go. The ideas come from my surroundings, from art history, books, shop windows, or a visit to a museum or park. The idea for La Mariposa came when I was walking through Central Park and saw many butterflies fluttering around a lady’s head. After that I started seeing butterflies everywhere — in shop windows, in paintings in the museums I visit frequently and in jewellery, so I decided to depict this obsession in a series of sculptures. The abstract faces in these sculptures are inspired by Matisse but the central theme is butterflies, which everyone can relate to, and always bring a smile.
Why do you mix seemingly opposing materials and ideas in your work?
I like the challenge of combining materials, colours or styles that are difficult to blend such as mixing figurative and abstract imagery or hard metals with soft alabaster. I have recently started using mirrors in my paintings because they reflect the viewers and the surroundings, making the works interactive and ever changing. In this exhibition, I have used gold for the first time but I also want to point out that there is a long tradition of gold and mirrors being used in sculpture and painting in art history. And, this visit to Dubai has got me thinking about using sand in my work.
Manolo Valdés in Dubai will run at Opera Gallery Dubai in DIFC until April 14. The public artworks will be on display in Gate Village, DIFC, until March 2019.