For 50 years, his murals have nourished Austin’s soul. They’ve awakened our spirit and fed our minds.
But for artist Raúl Valdez, the countless murals he’s uplifted us with, which can be found anywhere from schools to the streets, aren’t about the finished product.
“It’s always been about the process for me,” he says. That’s because he’s never made painting a solitary experience. Over the years, Valdez has engaged community in his work by inviting neighborhood input and involving youth and residents to be part of his projects.
In 2012, the City spent $52,000 to restore one of Valdez’ iconic murals, which sprawls across a 3,000-square-foot-canvas in East Austin. Valdez’ original 1978 piece, which features images inspired by Chicano culture and Mexican history, serves as the backdrop to the outdoor Hillside Theater at the Oswaldo A.B. Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center.
Now, after half a century of producing artwork and inspiring a new generation of Austin artists, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center will honor Valdez’ life and work. The exhibit “Vida y Obra: 50 Years of Art and Activism” opens at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the cultural center’s Sam Z. Coronado Gallery. The prominent exhibition kicks off a weekend of events celebrating the MACC’s 10th anniversary.
“It’s very humbling,” Valdez says of the exhibit, which will include archival photos, documents and articles that’ll give a holistic view of Valdez’ life from his rock band days to his encounters with farm worker movement leaders including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
In 2011, Valdez lost his home in the Bastrop wildfires. “It was a tragic loss,” he says. Manuscripts of books he’d started to write vanished and artwork turned to ashes. Now, Valdez has rebuilt his life and career in downtown Austin and has no plans to slow down. Often he’s asked to name what mural he’s been the most proud of creating over his lifetime, but he always has the same answer: “My next one.”
Visit austintexas.gov/esbmacc to learn more about the MACC’s 10th anniversary events, which include an open house with family activities starting at 4 p.m. on Sept. 16, followed by music and dance performances.
MORE CULTURAL ARTS: Check out the Cultura en Austin blog