Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Conservation Institute

Talking with Artist De Wain Valentine

One of the most influential sculptors active in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s, De Wain Valentine is perhaps best known for his large-scale polyester resin sculptures of simple geometric forms that interact intensely with the surrounding light. Not as well known, however, are the huge challenges he faced in finding a material that would allow him to realize his artistic vision. He pushed artistic boundaries, creating a new polyester resin that allowed him to make luminous sculptures of monumental proportions.

Last week, as part of Pacific Standard Time, the artist discussed those challenges and boundaries at “An Evening with De Wain Valentine,” presented by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Research Institute. The evening began with a screening of a documentary on De Wain’s work.

De Wain told the packed crowd about his love affair with the light and sea and the sky in Los Angeles, his struggle to create monumental artworks with polyester resin, the lasting friendships he forged with other artists of the era such as Dan Flavin and Frank Gehry (see that discussion here), and the ongoing tension between conserving his artwork in a way that represents his vision but still leaves the handmade “soul” of the piece—the subject of this clip.

De Wain spoke with senior scientist Tom Learner, who curated the exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column (through March 11), centered on the 1975–6 sculpture Gray Column, which, at twelve feet high, eight feet across, and about 3,500 lbs, is one of the largest artworks De Wain ever made with polyester resin. Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970 (through February 5) also includes a piece by De Wain, the eight-foot-high Red Concave Circle, one of my personal favorites.

De Wain Valentine polishing one of his eight-foot-diameter polyester Circles in his Venice studio in the late 1960s

De Wain Valentine polishing one of his eight-foot-diameter polyester Circles in his Venice studio in the late 1960s. Image © Harry Drinkwater

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      William Pope.L

      Tell us a bit about how and why you became an artist.

      I used to blame my being an artist on my grandmother, but that was my younger self looking for a scapegoat. At one point in undergrad, I had a moment, a crisis where I thought it was my job to save my family and the best way to that was to be a commercial artist—but I had to let go of that. Truth be told, being an artist is something I choose every day. Of course, maybe I choose art because I’m afraid of theater—too much memorizing and being in the moment and shit.

      A lot of your work deals with racial issues—perceptions of “blackness,” “whiteness,” the absurdity of racial prejudices, the violence of it. Why do you address race in your work? Do you think art can be an agent of change?

      I address race in my work ‘cause day-to-day in our country it addresses me. Yes, art can change the world but so can Disney—so there is that. I think the real question is not can art change the world, but can art be changed by the world? Would we allow this?

      Humor, with a touch of the absurd, seems to be an important component in your artistic practice. What role does humor play in your work?

      I like to use humor in my work ‘cause it answers/deals with questions in ways that are very unique. Humor answers questions with an immediacy and creates a productive amnesia of the moment in the receiver—but then the wave recedes, the world floods back in with its pain, confusions, and crush but the humor remains like a perfume or an echo or a kiss inside beneath one’s skin.

      More: Artist William Pope.L on Humor, Race, and God

      From top: Obi Sunt (Production Image from the making of Obi Sunt), 2015, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L; Gans-Nelson fight, from the album ‘Incident to the Gans-Nelson fight’ (Page 40-3), Goldfield, NV, September 3, 1906, William Pope.L. Courtesy of Steve Turner and the Artist; Tour People, 2005, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L; Failure Drawing #301, NYU/Napkin, Rocket Crash, William Pope.L. Courtesy of the Artist © Pope.L.


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