Esteban del Valle brings the conquistador into modern times in ‘Which Ridge is Next’

Robert Johnson Jr. / THE GATEPOST

By Robert Johnson Jr.
Arts & Features Editor

At the Mazmanian Art Gallery, the urban landscapes of Brooklyn and Chicago crossed paths with Framingham State University through the presentation of Esteban del Valle’s exhibit, “Which Ridge is Next.” A reception and an accompanying talk Oct. 3.

Del Valle, who hails from Illinois, is an “interdisciplinary artist” who has been featured in various publications, including HiFructose and the Washington Post, according to a press release at the reception. His inspirations come from urban art forms such as graffiti and the stylings found within comic books.

“Which Ridge is Next” is a mixed-media, contemporary look into the mundane and inconvenient moments of day-to-day life, inspired by del Valle’s ongoing series, “Worst Day Ever,” which follows a conquistador in the modern day, takes inspiration from the political cartoon as an art form, showing the conquistador as “both a satirical figure and a caricature of the artist.”

People at the reception were greeted by images of a conquistador in unfavorable situations, notably his struggles getting onto a subway train, or being pelted by heavy rain, equipped with a tattered umbrella – scenarios the viewers can relate to. 

During the reception, Ellie Krakow, professor of art and director of the gallery, explained her reason for inviting del Valle to display his works at FSU.

“I have a long relationship with Esteban,” Krakow said. “Esteban and I both went to the same artist residency program, a program called Skowhegan – they have a big alumni network and we both ended up giving talks. … I was very impressed by what he said and I thought it would be interesting on this campus to see how his work would interact with our community.”

As for what, exactly, motivated Krakow to bring del Valle to FSU, she said it’s like answering a “multi-part question.

“The things that interest me about Esteban’s work range from his interest in drawing and the specifics of making beautiful lines and compositions to the political, to the humorous. The way he deals with content and the beauty of his form is really compelling to me,” Krakow said. 

“I’m also extremely interested in how he has both a mural practice – which is very much in the outside, public context – and a fine art practice, and kind of where they intersect,” she added

“When I heard that he wanted to do a mural installation, I was super excited because I thought that dialogue would open up a lot of potential for people to talk about it in different ways.”

Steve Santiago, a senior and a native of the Bronx, was one of those people.

“When I walked in, I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but when I saw all the buildings, it tied me in,” Santiago said. “Just looking around at the different colors and buildings and the Puerto Rican flag made me feel nostalgic.”

Patricia Birch, director of inclusive excellence initiatives at the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE), was in attendance as part of the CIE’s ongoing “LatinX” series of events for LatinX history month.

“When I entered into the exhibit, I was like, ‘Wow,’ basically,” Birch said. “It made me think about the hardships and the things that persons of color oftentimes have to deal with. Sometimes, we may get thrown off that horse, but then we get back up.

“You look at some of the other pictures, and you see the man in color, in black and white, you see him brushing his teeth, you see him in the city, and I look at that like, ‘Yes, I’m in this world, and sometimes, these things happen. I may get off the horse, but there’s a whole city here to support me, and while everyone may not be there to support me, there are some people who are.’ … To me, there’s hope.” 

Claudia Springer, professor of English, was also a fan of del Valle’s work – “I like it for a number of reasons. I think it’s very beautiful to look at in terms of style and technique, but, even more importantly, I like the concept of bringing Don Quixote into the modern world and showing the destruction and disappointment and disillusionment that he and we feel.”

Jan Franco, a freshman, said the exhibit “feels different coming into a small room, but with a lot of art with different, unique mediums – it’s really interesting to see all the different types of watercolor or acrylics or colored pencil and how it all comes together in the end. It gives a great message.”

At the talk in the Forum, del Valle went into greater detail about the exhibit, as well as his own upbringing as an artist and the path he’s taken to get to where he is through the use of a presentation filled with pictures and clips from TV shows and movies. He also talked about his foray into independent films through the creative process of a short film called, “Viable Option.”

“My first real exposure to art was a mixture of graffiti and murals,” del Valle said, “That was my day-to-day commute to grade school and I grew up seeing all these murals which were often about community identity or political issues that were important or, you know, historical figures.

“I view a lot of my work as drawing, and most people would look at it and think of it as painting, wondering, ‘What’s the difference?’ The main idea for me is that drawing is kind of an approach to art-making that a lot of times is using ready-made colors,” del Valle said. “I’m using markers or colored pencils, so if there’s a yellow, I’m grabbing that yellow – I’m not mixing a new yellow. If there’s a blue, I’m grabbing that blue – I’m not mixing a new blue.”

As for what inspired del Valle to make the conquistador character, as well as “Worst Day Ever” as a whole, he pointed to a scene in “Rick and Morty” about “real fake doors” from the 2014 episode, “Rixty Minutes.”

“One question I wanted to answer was, ‘What does a political cartoon do after he or she’s done?’” del Valle said.

As for del Valle’s next project, he aims to follow up “Worst Day Ever” with “Worst Summer Ever,” which he is in the process of creating. 

You can check out more of del Valle’s work, as well as his progress, at estebandelvalle.com.

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