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MANOLO VALDÉSSpanish b. 1942

MANOLO VALDÉSSpanish b. 1942

One of the most important and original Spanish contemporary artists, Valdés’s striking images are layered in both concept and material. Informed by his vast knowledge of art history and innovative technique, his works illustrate the historical and technical processes that underwrite image-making. Vivianne II is one of a series of paintings that depict Valdés’s raven-haired model. It echoes one of Henri Matisse’s most important pieces, his 1905 Portrait of Madame Matisse or The Green Line, which portrays his wife Amélie in the same dress and pose, her arched black eyebrows framing a face that is bisected by a green line.

One of the first Spanish artists to embrace Pop, Valdés’s work centres on the appropriation of pivotal pieces by Old and Modern Masters, from Henri Matisse to Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya. His works are not copies, though they have emerged in response to what Walter Benjamin has termed the age of mechanical reproduction, where flattened reproductions of paintings are everywhere, in books and posters and now on websites. Meanwhile, Valdés is also inspired by André Malraux’s concept of the ‘musée imaginaire’, the museum without walls that each individual person creates in his own mind, an art collection far beyond the scope of any actual museum. Yet what is lost in these memories and reproductions, as Benjamin famously wrote, is the “aura” of a work of art, which resides in that work’s physicality, a tangible record of its lived history. This physicality, this three-dimensionality and vivid display of the creative process is central to Valdés’s work. Vivianne II draws on the past, but its emphatic materiality underlines that it is not a reproduction. Visceral and immediate, it flaunts its burlap support, which is alternately torn and sewn together to emphasise the colouristic division of the model’s face and creates true volume around her collar and hairline.

Born in Valencia in 1942, Manolo Valdes was originally inspired by the work of the British Pop artist Richard Hamilton. At the age of 22 he founded the artists’ group Equipo Crónica, who were among the first Spanish artists to show an interest in Pop. Meanwhile during the early 1960s he also belonged to the local branch of Estampa Popular, a radical underground movement of young graphic artists whose strong political, pro-democratic agenda protested against the cultural and political repression under General Franco. Since then his art has developed to include the influences of Velázquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Matisse, Picasso, and others. He has exhibited widely, showing paintings and collages, etchings and sculptures and has received various awards, including the National Award for the Fine Arts in Spain.

Today he lives and works in New York and Madrid. As well as exhibiting regularly with Marlborough Gallery there is a thriving secondary market for his works. Record prices at auction for his sculptures stand at $750,000 and at least twenty of the large single head painting/collages from the period 1999-2010 (including other examples of Vivianne) have sold at auction for between $350,000 and $630,000.