Vases by Patssi Valdez: Trajectory and Process

This essay appears as part of the exhibition Patssi Valdez: Vases.


Patssi Valdez’s oeuvre utilizes both narrative and improvisation. Experimenting with various media—including performance, painting, and set design—the artist expresses social concerns and personal stories in urban spaces or the private domestic lives of her Latino friends. Her works are interconnected and natural extensions of each other as shown in her latest series Vases, which will be exhibited for the first time thanks to the internet-based Sanguine Gallery at the Castelli Art Space in Los Angeles, California beginning July 2018. The works showcase a combination of her influences throughout her career, beginning with improvisation.

Valdez explains that the vases began as playful experimentation when she painted various imagery on found ceramics. The process based on experimentation or improvisation stems from her early work with Asco, the Chicano art collective in which individual members would improvise a unique vision and opinion based performance centered on mutually-agreed themes and concerns. In Vases, instead of improvising with fellow artists, Valdez utilized her unique vision to experiment with materials, color, and images to produce a secret narrative, hidden by the artist in order for the viewers to figure out and interpret for themselves. The narrative of the works appears to be related to both the images and its material surface (i.e., the ceramic vase). In a podcast with Sanguine Gallery co-partner Thomas Canavan, Valdez clarifies that she did not create the vases showcased in this exhibition as she was less interested in the ceramic aspect of the work because she preferred to place more emphasis on the effect her paintings had on three-dimensional surfaces. The intention is apparent in the organic shapes, including vines, leaves, and flowers, that predominate the subject matter. The natural imagery is especially well-suited for the performative aspect of viewing the vases, in which the image is given dynamic properties with changes in perspective as one moves around the work.  

As seen through her interest in improvisation and experimentation, Valdez is inspired by her own creative process, which includes using found objects as part of and as inspiration for her art. Not only did she find and collect the ceramics in this exhibition, but she also collected the objects that inspired the images painted on the vases. She began using this strategy in her paintings and gouaches, and in an interview with the artist she expressed the desire to one day display the objects for exhibition in order to showcase her creative process. Additionally, Valdez takes direct inspiration from her own work, utilizing imagery existing in her paintings as the subject matter of her vases. One example of this inspiration is the vase which features the bust of a queen, an image which can also be found in the artist’s print work. The availability of the same image on various media, especially if juxtaposed together, exposes the influence and interrelation of the subject or image on the specific material. Adding an additional layer to the works, Valdez also created matching “flowers” with pom poms or “vines” made out of organic material or wire to fill the vases. She explained that again the idea of filling the vases came about improvisationally when she wanted to showcase the possible use of the vases for a collector and found the flowers and vines a positive artistic surprise. While working on the series, Valdez was interested in jewelry design and included silver and gold lustres, as well as crystal medallions on the vases. The opulent designs on found ceramics encapsulates the artist’s persistent avant-garde aesthetic of combining high and low art and fashion (i.e., performance with social issues, painting with Latino domestic spaces, and films or runway shows with paper fashions).

Although beginning as playful experimentation, Patssi Valdez’s Vases encapsulates the artist’s creative trajectory—including, improvisation, painting, object collection, and design. The early works from Vases beginning in 2007 depicts dreamlike surrealist scenes of desolate domestic spaces with curtains revealing ominous tables, chairs, or statuettes in black outline. As the work progressed, Valdez continued the use of dark outline with the addition of more color. She experimented with natural imagery of plants, flowers, and vines, which resemble woodcut printing or tattoo work. As she finished the series, Valdez combined the curtains from the earlier years with the organic plant designs creating ornate bejeweled images that included added ornamentation, such as silver and gold lustre and crystal medallions. The simplicity of the vases, varying subject matter, and the artist’s complex creative process gives insight to the future works that may be next in line in the artist’s trajectory.

Julia Fernandez is a PhD candidate at the University of California, San Diego.