OC Weekly Review: American Beauties

Painting by Mark Vallen
“La Muerta.” Vallen oil painting on display at American Beauties.

The group show American Beauties: Different Stories, opened on April 1, 2006 to an appreciative crowd who gathered at the Space On Spurgeon gallery in Santa Ana, California, to view the art and meet the artists. In his review for the OC Weekly, No Punches Pulled: American Beauties’ is life, unedited, Justin Edward Coffey wrote:

“Before the heat of the election season overwhelms the light of, oh, rational debate, you should see American Beauties at Space on Spurgeon in Santa Ana. Featuring four artists steeped in Latino culture, it is unflinching and unapologetic, surreal and hyperreal.

The pieces here give voice to a segment of America still largely underrepresented. LA artist Mark Vallen lends his subjects a weightiness previously ascribed to iconic Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange.

Her records of the poor and displaced get a 21st-century update in My Nature Is Hunger (2005), an oil on canvas that captures acutely a young Hispanic woman cradling her son. Their forlorn expressions reveal eyes already lowered by harsh realities.

Witness the fabric delicately gathered around the stark white buttons of a girl’s festival garb in The Red Dress (2006). Or the defiant gaze and bottomlessly blue coat of an anonymous Chicana in She Who Wears Bells on Her Cheeks (1993), an allusion to the Aztec goddess of the moon. Vallen’s photorealistic style is called figurative realism, and it neither gives quarter nor pulls its punches.”

“She Who Wears Bells on Her Cheeks.” Mark Vallen 1993. Chalk pastel on paper.

Coffey gave the group show a rave review, needless to say putting in good words for my fellow painters, Emigdio Vasquez, Gregg Stone, and Michael Maas. The Spanish language daily, OC Excelsior, also gave the show a glowing review. Special events editor, Miguel Suárez-Orozco, wrote of my work, “For his part, Vallen presents the Hispanic woman as a beautiful Indian, elegantly costumed, a proud goddess, aloof from any type of discrimination.”

The American Beauties: Different Stories exhibit at Space On Spurgeon closes June 30th, 2006.

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