A dozen or so new paintings lined and sidled up against the walls in Fred Valentine’s Ridgewood home studio—which also functions as the main room of his gallery, Valentine, on weekends—when I paid him a visit recently. It was about a week before the opening of his solo show at Sometimes (through July 12), another artist-helmed exhibition space, this one operated by James Siena in Chinatown. Valentine banged disinterestedly on a small set of bongo drums as his dog, Martha, barked wildly. Somewhat less than coincidentally, the barking ceased an instant after the bongoing. “These are all done,” said the artist. “Maybe a couple of them need another hour of work.” Martha circled us, looked around, passed out. “Anyway, they’re fantastic,” he added. A true statement indeed—on levels formal and conceptual alike.
While the oneiric qualities of Valentine’s variably representational works—featuring now a landscape, now an animal, now a house, now a paternal wailer—tend toward the more umbrageous reaches of fantasy in both mood and palette, airs of humor exude from them as well. His night-shrouded river valleys, for instance, almost audibly atrickle in a barely moonlit calm, read like Conradian realms of perdition or lost reels from Fitzcarraldo, yet the blatant, somewhat imprecisely rendered wood-like frames that confine them steer the viewer clear from mere visions of dread. "This is but a dream," they readily suggest. Or better yet: "This is but a painting of something dreamt." Where Valentine hints at hearts mired in yet deeper darknesses, as in his depictions of bawling bereavers in the Grieving Fathers series, he raises the comic relief commensurably. Thus his weeping dads—here humorously demonic, there half-humanly distraught—cry hard enough to bring even their backgrounds showering down upon them, somehow making the fully rendered, quaintly remnant socks and shoes on their offsprings’ sundered limbs appear particularly, if not disturbingly, amusing.
“I really want to show this one,” said Valentine, “so that I finally stop working on it.” He was gesturing toward a rather large, meticulously chunky composition featuring a lone house—or an illusionistic duplex, as it were—amid murkily chimeric environs far more haunting than their nonetheless peculiar resident structure. “Anyway, I think it’s done,” he continued. I agreed. We agreed it should make the curatorial cut. Then Martha woke up and barked us both out the door.
Photos Paul D'Agostino