WHEN SAN ANTONIO artist Vincent Valdez began work on his latest painting, “The City,” in November of last year, the 38-year-old painter had no idea that the real-life counterparts to the whitehooded apparitions that are depicted in his new piece would find many of their racist ideas being floated around in the loaded rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign. The Ku Klux Klan may still be universally reviled, but this election cycle has proven that white supremacy is still alive in America, and Valdez suspects it may have a familiar face.
The massive, 43-foot-long piece that the artist has spent nearly a year meticulously painting debuted in early September at the David Shelton Gallery, and hangs through Oct. 8. The way that Valdez has painted the Klan members in his piece — holding cellphones, a baby, a beer — humanizes them, bringing home the idea that these insidious figures are everyday Americans. And as he painted each hooded character, the artist says he found himself wondering who was lurking underneath the cartoonish masks. Could they be teachers, doctors, neighbors or councilmen?
“[We] have had an ongoing staring contest in the studio every day for the last 10 months,” he says. “I am as curious about them as they are about me. I fear them as much as they do me. Perhaps this is where we find ourselves in 21st-century America, endlessly drawing lines over histories, territories and differences.”