De Wain Valentine, a sculptor whose use of unusual industrial materials was instrumental in the innovative movement of light and space in art in the 1960s and 1970s, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 85.
Rather than traditional bronze, Valentine has cast abstract sculptures in resin, fiberglass-reinforced polyester, and other synthetic materials. Most were pedestal-bound and took on simple geometric shapes such as discs, rings, pyramids, and tapered columns.
Occasionally architectural scale came into play, as with a curved wall of translucent resin more than two meters high and wide. Multiple wedge-shaped pillars in gray, deep blue, lavender, fluorescent yellow, and other lollipop tones stand up to 12 feet tall.
Light penetrating the clear plastic wall made the surface perceptibly porous and created a tactile optical effect in the space around the sculpture, almost like a frozen waterfall. The pillars taper as the form rises upwards where the increasingly transparent color becomes ethereal; The dense, more opaque color underneath makes the airy form appear tied to the ground by a great visual weight.
“From Beginning to End: De Wain Valentine’s ‘Gray Column'”, at exhibition organized by the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum for the citywide Pacific Standard Time Festival in 2011, chronicled the tedious process of creating a free-standing, 8-foot-wide slab. It took nearly two years (1975-76) to produce the massive sculpture, which required the invention of a new polyester resin that would not crack or warp when cast in large quantities. The ingenious material that was developed together with Hastings Plastics Co. in Santa Monica is now called Valentine MasKast Resin.
“LA is the City of the modern world,” Valentine told UCLA art historian Kurt von Meier in a 1966 Artforum interview, “and that world will be plastic.”
Most of Valentine’s resin sculptures required a four or five step process. First, a model of the sculpture was formed, usually from lightweight polyurethane foam. The mockup became a pattern coated with fiberglass or plastic. When the coating cured and was removed from the model, the resulting mold was used to cast the sculpture with pigmented liquid resin. Removed from the mold, the finished piece was sanded and polished to a mirror finish.
Some Valentine sculptures are less labor intensive and more playful. Triple Disk Red Metal Flake – Black Edge (1966), now in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, consists of a tilted trio of crimson flying saucer shapes balanced on their edges. “double peak(1967), in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a back-to-back pair of the pot-bellied children’s toys in bright red and blue. The voluptuous and swelling shapes convey a subtly erotic dimension.
Related works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. These waist-high sculptures are made from fiberglass reinforced polyester. Their highly polished surfaces are reminiscent of the eye-catching custom-made products that the artist saw in his youth in his father’s auto repair shop – and sometimes painted with them.
Valentine was born on August 27, 1936 in Fort Collins, Colorado (his Danish great-grandfather immigrated to the state to prospect for gold). After receiving a BA in Fine Art from the University of Colorado in 1958 and before earning an MFA two years later, he enrolled in the intensive summer program at Yale Norfolk School of Art in Connecticut from the same school where he later taught . In Denver he worked with the abstract-expressionist painter Clyfford Still and at Yale with the painters Richard Diebenkorn and Philip Guston. All were adept at color abstraction.
A part-time teaching position at UCLA brought Valentine to California in 1965 with his wife and three young children. Landing in Venice Beach, then a seedy coastal neighborhood with cheap studios and a thriving community of ambitious young artists, he was fortunate enough to rent an apartment next door to sculptor Larry Bell. Before the end of the month he had met Bell’s close friend, Frank O. Gehry. Bell’s artistic interests and Gehry’s evolving architectural practice combined with Valentine’s own burgeoning aspirations.
Over the years, he acquired several ramshackle buildings in Venice, including his original 5,000-square-foot studio. After a divorce, Valentine lived in Hawaii for several years. There he met his wife Kiana Sasaki, who survives him.
Valentine confirmed an affinity with the Southern California sculptures and paintings of Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin and John McCracken, contemporaries for whom precise surface was the key to a successful work of art. Former Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson first used the term “finish fetish” to describe the look in 1966. New York sculptors Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Robert Morris were influential, as were historical figures such as Albert Pinkham Ryder and JMW Turner.
Valentine’s first solo show in Los Angeles was at Ace Gallery in 1968. He later exhibited in LA with the Virginia Dwan Gallery. In New York he exhibited at the David Zwirner Gallery in 2010 and 2015 and at the Almine Rech Gallery in 2017.
In the late 1970s, concerned about the toxic effects of working with resin, Valentine stopped using the chemically volatile material. Still interested in the effects of light, color and surface, he made an extensive series of skeletal wall reliefs and free-standing sculptures from glued strips of light blue-green glass. They were featured in a one-man show at LACMA in 1979.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-02-24/sculptor-de-wain-valentine-dies-at-85 De Wain Valentine, a sculptor involved in the Light & Space movement, has died at the age of 85