Who The F is This Guy
De Wain Valentine—every heard of him? Until stumbling across this 2011 article in the NY Times I thought J. McCracken pioneered the use of Polyester as art material. Not so says Grey Column, the 12-foot solid piece of polyester resin produced in 1975-76. I do find myself grinning at the fact Valentine worked with his chemical provider to make this monolith possible, and that the thing is more or less flawless (at least in its photographic representation). But this isn’t the half of it.
Take McCracken. Beautiful work. The total saturation of color imbedded in the resin creates a mirror that reflects both viewer and space. Essentially, this is heightening one of the most essential, elemental properties of art—a visual experience through the refraction of light. Valentines work doesn’t simply celebrate this phenomena by the properties of reflection—it goes a step further with its translucency. Grey Column becomes a mirror and a lense—a canvas or space for the refraction of light. If Minimalism was/is really about “boiling down” a work to its most essential properties, it seems Valentine has a leg up. It might be easy to dismiss Valentine’s statement that he was trying to capture a piece of the sky or a slice of the sea as overly New Age—but isn’t atmosphere and water where light is most evident?
It is moments like this that blow me away. I’ve never heard of this guy—and many of my colleagues haven’t either. McCracken seems to be a household name. Maybe it’s because McCracken was represented by David Zwirner and I’m unknowingly Chelseacentric. Maybe McCracken in his own right was a better businessman than Valentine. Whatever the case, here is a guy who was making similar work in the same part of the country at the same time McCracken was producing his Slab Paintings and other objects. I think it’s due time we consider this work in light of McCracken’s—which I’ll argue will expand our understanding of the visual culture that was cultivated in the American West during the 1970’s.
Grey Column 1975-76
Look closely—you can see the pedestal and the wall through the column.
Red Concave Circle, 1970