Patssi Valdez is a painter, photographer, performance and installation artist, whose autobiographical work reveals a collective urban tale of Chicana life. She focuses on the anxiety of the modern-day Chicana, expected by her family to be docile but also strong enough to survive the dangers of the barrio.
Valdez was born into a family of artists in East Los Angeles. When she was seventeen, she walked out of Garfield High School in the Chicano blowups of 1969. As a performance artist she joined the artists Gronk (born Giugio Nicandro), Harry Gamboa, and Willie Herron in 1972 to form the Chicano performance artist coalition ASCO (‘nausea’), which did incredible street performances. ASCO lasted until 1987. It first came about because Los Angeles County Museum of Art refused to include Chicano art in any of its exhibitions. In protest Gamboa, Gronk, and Herron spray-painted their signatures on the outside walls of LACMA and claimed the museum as their first Conceptual art piece. The next day Valdez was photographed standing beside the three signatures in solidarity.
The four artists developed a Conceptual art that turned from the museum to the streets of Los Angeles as the city was engaged in social protest. In “Walking Mural” 1972 the four artists marched down Whittier Boulevard dressed as mural characters with Valdez posing as the Virgen de Guadalupe-in-Black to protest the way muralism, which glorified the conquest of the Americas, had reclaimed public space. Valdez’s images of dark Madonnas formed a connective thread through her work. Whether constructing full installations dedicated to the Black Virgin or making paintings of female deities, she kept the feminine icons dark. Often an icon would appear in a small detail of a domestic interior.
Valdez attended East Los Angeles College and graduated from Los Angeles’s Otis Parsons School of Design in 1985. She began painting in 1998 and studied at the Parsons School of Design, New York in 1993.
Valdez’s still-life paintings and installations of the late 1980s and 1990s showed Chicano popular culture practices such as home shrines in the tradition of ‘rasquachismo, which is the style of those who must make the list from the least. ‘Domesticana’ – the Chicana version of rasquachismo combined traditional imagery and cultural materials with her own brand of subversion as she confronted her dysfunctional childhood head-on. Her first major canvas was “The Kitchen” painted in 1988. It showed a kitchen table skewed and off-balance with sharp pronged forks and a knife stabbing fruit, thrown about in a menacing way. Later paintings continued in the same vein focusing on interior spaces with rooms askew, doors slightly ajar, walls curving, and with everyday objects presented as dangerous.
However, in the late 1990s, her works showed more optimism. Her “Daisy Queen,” while depicting her customary agitated table, chairs, glasses, cups, and objects, did have a stabilizing force. It is an elaborately framed picture of the Madonna, presented as a dignified queen carrying a daisy in place of the infant Jesus.
Valdez received the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts fellowship as well as a fellowship from the N.E.A. In 2011, her work was shown at the Fowler Museum at U.C.L.A. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of American Arts, Museums of Art in Tucson, San Jose, and El Paso. She participated in the 2017-1018 Pacific Standard Time exhibition.