Inside life of Raúl Valdez, one of Austin’s top muralists

Aug 31, 2017
“Hillside Miracle” mural in East Austin. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

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

Get into a barrio daze

As anti-immigrant rhetoric rises across the country, playwright and performer Adrian Villegas imagines a world where hope sweeps through the barrio.

Villegas — who brought us the poignant yet hilarious Latino Comedy Project show “Gentrif*cked,” spotlighting the effects of gentrification on Latino neighborhoods — now reprises his one-man show “Barrio Daze” Thursdays through Saturdays Sept. 7-16 at The Institution Theater in South Austin.

Using cultural humor and sharp social commentary as his tools of choice, Villegas brings to life nine characters ranging from a quick-tempered Tex-Mex bus driver to a Chicano U.S. Senate hopeful. “Barrio Daze” takes audiences on a tour through one day in the barrio during a turbulent national election. The lives of all of these characters collide on an important Election Day.

Villegas’ gift for creating humanizing portraits of U.S. Latino life with wit and thought-provoking instincts make “Barrio Daze” an important performance to check out as issues of race and immigration continue to dominate national and local headlines.

Tickets, which are $11, are available online at barriodaze.eventbrite.com.

RELATED: Film features one of East Austin’s last Tejano bars

Diego and Frida in Austin

Theirs was a tumultuous relationship, filled with melodramatic scandals mixed with post-revolutionary Mexican politics. But what artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo gifted the world has been a legacy of work that continues to influence artistic movements, educate, and inspire.

Walking into their shared home studio in the Mexico City neighborhood of San Ángel years ago, I remember seeing the separate buildings where they each resided and the bridge that connected them. Although each artist shaped the art world in their own unique ways, it’s hard to deny how together they influenced more than just muralism and surrealism but Mexican culture.

Celebrate the famous couple at the special photo exhibit “Diego y Frida: A Smile in the Middle of the Way” at the Mexic-Arte Museum beginning Sept. 15. The exhibition, which is part of the 110th anniversary celebration of Kahlo and runs through Nov. 26, will also feature an altar and silkscreens of the artist.

Photographs of the art giants were made by Kahlo’s father Guillermo, Hungarian-American photographer Nickolas Muray (who had a love affair with Kahlo that lasted about a decade), and one of the founders of modern photography Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

Admission is free every Sunday. All other days, tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and students, and $1 for children 12 and under. Visit mexic-artemuseum.org for more details.