I haven’t said much about Valadez as an identity-politics artist. He does use incendiary La Raza imagery but doesn’t bloat or shellac it with issues. We’re aware of his Latino sources and models, but there’s no tendentiousness. He’s mostly obsessed with how the present is saturated with individual and racial memory. The bold, flat, confrontational spread of his pictures owes something to the New York artist Leon Golub, who died in 2004 and was best known for raw, agonized paintings of mercenaries, interrogators, and torturers. But Valadez’s imagery possesses more moral curiosity than moral rage, and his style has a visceral, romantic, pumped, and flung energy. His art essays extreme conditions, sexual and emotional inundation, the helpless self overcome by greater, unspeakable powers. ■
Santa Ana Condition: John Valadez is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego until September 2. 700 Prospect Street, La Jolla. 858-454-3541; mcasd.org.