Eduardo Valadez Arenas
interview JORGE PEREZCHICA
Eduardo Valadez Arenas was born in Mexico City, Mexico and then migrated with his family to the U.S. He grew up in Thousand Palms, CA. and experienced adversity living as an only child in a single-parent household with frequent encounters with gangs, drugs and police. Eduardo credits graffiti culture and the hip-hop scene in the community as pillars of support. Through college, Eduardo discovered the possibilities of art as a way of life. He began to meet transformative people who would become mentors and helped launch his career. Much of Eduardo’s work revolves around identity mixing Mexican culture, gangs and street art, which he describes as “working class aesthetics.” Everyday Eduardo tries to make it a goal to wake up and get to work on something daily. “It’s all about making and doing it relentlessly.”
JORGE: Can you you tell us your personal background and how you came to be an artist?
EDUARDO: I was born in Mexico City, Mexico and migrated with my family to the U.S. I am not sure if we were heading to anywhere in particular, but we ended up in the Coachella Valley. I grew up mostly in Thousand Palms but lived in a few other desert cities. If I had to choose one word to describe my personal story I would have to say: resilience. Growing up as an only child in a working class family which later was a single parent household in Thousand Palms was not easy, and I had to overcome a lot of obstacles, poor brown kid things: Encounters with police, drugs, violence, gangs etc. I have to give credit to the graffiti and hip-hop scene though this community was where weirdos like me could do our thing and still be edgy but creative. Also the College of the Desert where I attended after alternative high school, this is where I learned that art could actually, maybe, possibly, become a real career or way of life. At C.O.D I met a lot of transformative people who would later become mentors, they catapulted my career as an artist and through them, I gained my first formal art related job as a muralist and mural instructor for the Palm Springs Unified School District, where I worked to create over a few dozen murals with students and independently in schools throughout the valley
JORGE: How did growing up in Coachella Valley influence your work?
EDUARDO: The desert is a very inspirational place which is no wonder why it’s written about in so many text and is a metaphor for life and death. The desert is the epitome of extremes and duality. The desert is barrio and glitz, quiet and violently loud, drought and floods, peace and violence, boring and vibrant. The desert is everything all at once and nothing at all. How inspiring and humbling the duality of the desert can be. The Coachella Valley is also where I learned about resourcefulness. As a kid I remember getting sand in my eyes while building forts in the ditch or in the back roads of Thousand Palms somewhere. there so many materials to choose from, somehow the desert wasteland becomes home to the discarded treasures of everyone who chooses to let go of things. Trash and the things others leave behind is an important part of my practice, the remains both literal and metaphorically are woven into my work.
JORGE: How has the move to Oakland, CA influenced your work? Has your approach to art changed?
EDUARDO: You know, my approach hasn’t really changed much, however, I will say—and give the Bay Area and Oakland in particular the credit it deserves. It has really given me more accountability as a person of color to hold my truth as evident to history and politics. I would say that both Oakland and the Bay Area being historically radical and progressive places has influenced my work greatly, in many ways politicizing my views. How much this has changed my approach I do not know, but it certainly has changed and influenced my approach to life and the way I see others and the world in general; particularly issues revolving around people of color, and more specifically the Black and the LGBTQ community. In Oakland you are constantly being confronted with your own self and your preconceptions while also being presented with encounters with people of all genders, ethnicities, races, and backgrounds it’s a beautiful thing and encourages people to look deep inside themselves and love more.
JORGE: What are the themes and concepts behind your work?
EDUARDO: Much of my work revolves around identity. I was always influenced by gang culture and Mexican culture so I tend to mix those things as well as street art. All of these things make up who I am. I use “working class aesthetics” a term I made up which basically is the use of everyday working class materials to create artwork: painters tape, landscaping tarps, building materials, house paint etc. Also since I am investigating identity I delve quite a bit into history of colonialism, worker’s struggle, social rights and folklore. I get inspired by the most random things here is a list in no particular order: the sights and sounds of Mexico, Jazz, Cumbia parties in Oakland, the wild west feel of thousand palms, trips to the border, Los Zapatistas, Robert De Niro movies, Sci-fi, food from colonized countries, Hip-hop, color swatches from Sherwin Williams, poetry, street gangs, Reggae, Instagram, folklore, Road Trips, 1960s, artist of color, things that people forget, Corridos, my dreams, good books and sex.
JORGE: You work with various art mediums and materials. Can you tell us about your creative process?
EDUARDO: Lately I have been doing a lot of work for commissions or shows, but I usually find myself looking at reference photos and books for inspiration. I also do online research quite a bit. I can’t really speak to a set process besides that, and lately I’ve been trying to make something at least once a day. Because I work from a variety of mediums one day I could be woodworking the other, painting and the next, graphic design. This makes it hard to keep a consistent process. However, I do try and make it a goal to wake up and get to work on something daily; building something for my garden, screen-printing some clothing, starting a new painting, or working on some freelance graphic design projects. It’s all about making and doing it relentlessly for me. All day, every day. Bob Marley once said “The people who are trying to make this world worse don’t take a day off so why should I.”
JORGE: Your work blends cultural references and social commentary — describe how you use them.
EDUARDO: I just paint what I see and try and hold no prejudice to what things I bring together in a certain space, if the world were more like this perhaps we would have less violence.
JORGE: As an artist, what are you most passionate about? What do you want viewers to come away with?
EDUARDO: I am truly passionate about making and have stopped putting emphasis on the expectation of eliciting a response from people on my work. I am selfish, I make art for myself, for my sanity and because it’s what makes me happy, if people come away with something for themselves or are moved by something I do, cool — if not then, that’s cool too.
JORGE: You are also an educator and a collaborator with non-profit arts organizations. Can you tell us about that and what have been some of your most memorable experiences?
EDUARDO: I have been an arts educator for over 10 years now; working with nonprofits, arts institutions and schools, too. To date, I think the most memorable experience has been working with the residents of the Harrison Hotel — a SRO in downtown Oakland where I led a varied assortment of workshops for the residents- many of which were underprivileged people of color. Making a space with these people was a profound experience, as many of them were previously on the streets. It further inspired me to continue on the route of art education and healing both for myself and others.
JORGE: What are you currently working on now?
EDUARDO: Currently, I am doing a fellowship program at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, where I am working on a year-long project that aims to create social systems around the city and asks questions around Place and Freedom. I also work as a freelance designer, sign painter, and am open for commissions in the near future. I hope to return to graduate school to pursue an MFA in fine arts and painting. I recently Curated an Art show titled SEEDS where I collaborated with Printmaker Luna Francesca, furniture maker and land steward Jonathan Bailey, photographer Ave Long, painter and textile artist Leticia Javier and performance artist Suzy Hernandez. The show developed to be a magical experience of art, performance and space making for survivors and friends of survivors of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. We created a large community altar and used the space as a community gathering site. I wish to continue to curate shows and events like this in the future and have been offered to present SEEDS at the MAC Center on the College of the Desert campus in September of 2017.