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Vincent Valdez, And His Sarape-Inspired Benches Along Mission Reach

The Mission Reach continues to peel back the metaphorical public art onion, and on Monday a pair of Vincent Valdez art installations were revealed: two benches.

“It was a chance for me to share my work with the public, with the community and the city of San Antonio, and (be) part of this amazing project they’re doing,” he said.

"This amazing project: are you talking about the Mission Reach?” I asked.

“Right, and you know I think it’s a project that’s exciting to me as a citizen of the city of San Antonio, to see how much the public is already using it," said Valdez. "Getting outside, walking with their pets, running, jogging…just spending more time outside, getting to know more about nature, ecology.”

As he revealed, the origins of the idea for his rectangular steel benches are surprising.

“The concept was sparked by the opening segment of Stanley Kubrick’s '2001: a Space Odyssey,' where the primitive cavemen encountered this minimalist black, monolithic form," he said. "I was seeing it as a metaphor, as symbolism for San Antonio today. We seem to be a city that is rapidly changing. But we’re a city that embraces the past, and we somehow force the two to coexist, the old school meets the new school.”

Those steel benches represent the jet black rectangle that so perplexed the cavemen, but in a very colorful way.

“I took two old sarapes my mother passed down to me years ago, embedded them into the actual benches, and here we see the old meets the new.” he explained.

Sarapes, as you may well know, are brightly-colored traditional Mexican blankets.

He digitally recorded and produced the colorful blankets as the bench tops, and the results are bright and inviting. And they’re so realistic you have to reach out with your hands to be sure they’re not actually a blanket.

“They’re very modern-looking, but at the same time they’re low and slow like the classic low riders on the South Side,” said Valdez.

I noted that these benches don't suggest Minneapolis or Columbus, Ohio. They say "San Antonio." Valdez agreed enthusiastically.

“Very much San Antonio," he said. "You know, I think for me, personally, It very much reflects my background growing up in the South Side community.”

As to where you can see them, the benches are a few hundred yards north of the Confluence Park parking lot, a little past Mitchell Avenue, and about a hundred feet from the San Antonio River. They face one another, and out to nature, which is no accident.

"The idea was to leave them open-ended with no backing, so that you can face inwards and outwards and so that was the idea — forcing the sitters to become interactive," he said.

While Valdez is one of the city’s most successful artists, as he notes, he’s new to public art.

“So it’s a big change for me. Most of the times as a painter the work goes straight from the easel into private collections or museums where, you know, not as much of the public has access to them,” he explained.

And he’s dropping hints that his public art inclinations are just beginning.

“So now I’ve got these concepts under way for future projects that are going to actually force the public to interact with my own work, and so yeah, I’m very excited about where that leads me," Valdez said.

As the Museum Reach arts continue to be revealed, we’ll keep you informed.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii