Los Angeles

Jeffery Vallance

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Jeffrey Valiance’s stance—the role he’s cast himself in and the way it determines his practice—can only be described as the result of an oddball vision that, when broken down into its contributing parts, doesn’t convey how resolved and monolithic the work ultimately is. Valiance’s tone approximates a fusion of an overzealous, fixational seventh-grader’s-international-affairs report; the knowing/naive diction of a 1956 World Book Encyclopedia entry; a rapt article in some fringe phenomena magazine like Fate or UFO Digest; and the travel notebooks of an eccentric uncle—journals that prove amazing in their awareness that symbology and belief the world over wed the ridiculous to the sublime.

Three’s a Shroud, 1993, is Vallance’s installation of variations and musings on famous Christian relics. The artist turned his attention to the shroud of Turin, the holy lance (thought to have pierced the crucified Christ’s side), and Veronica’s Veil. Viewers were presented with Valiance’s homemade relics, some looking very handcrafted and low-tech, others impressively fabricated by expert artisans. Certain works were framed plainly, others elaborately, and still other pieces were pushpinned to the wall. Murky, Rohrschach blot–like stains, in various permutations, abounded—supposedly images of images of Christ’s face wonderously imprinted on various fabrics after His contact with them. Valiance pays his own kind of fanatical attention to this material; in Shroud Library, 1992, he collected and displayed 90 related books on a shelf, kept in line by ceramic praying-hands/Holy Bible bookends. Near the Vatican, he attempted to create his own artifacts by dousing his face with espresso and “printing” his visage on silk handkerchiefs purchased expressly for that purpose. One stained, silken square appeared framed with his official Vatican visitor’s pass in Relics From Two Vatican Performances, 1992. Other Valiance versions of Christ’s imprinted face, at various removes from officially venerated objects, materialized on sack cloth, bed sheets, paper, dish towels, linen, and wood. The Valiance versions of these relics sometimes resembled the “real” models quite closely, and in other instances had a wacky, cartoonish look that completely departed from the “original’s” appearance. Via additional information and Vallance’s free-associational interpretations of the blot patterns, he established connections to Elvis Presley and to George Washington’s profile. Many of the pieces in the show, including Shroud Predicts Doomsday, 1992, and Symbols of Death and Resurrection on the Shroud, 1992, as well as five pieces in his “Details of the Holy Shroud” series, 1992, depicted amusing, scary, subliminal images that Valiance or others have claimed to see in the stains in question, including bombs, skulls, owls, and screaming clowns.

Among the more than forty pieces, the show also included thank-you notes to the artist from the Pope’s emissary, a local church, and the Trinity Broadcast Network for gifts of his artworks featuring Christ’s face. The short texts in these letters add to the layers of cross-references and entangled intentions that arguably are the only home turf of the nomadic Valiance. Questions of what constitutes reverence, reportage, the genuine, or fabrication seem to have been thrown into Vallance’s special blender, and the resulting concoction has a lingering, lively, inimitable aftertaste. With a childlike dead-seriousness, Valiance transfuses his self-manufactured “lore” directly into the veins of factual material about his concerns, making it impossible for viewers to consider that subject ever again without acknowledging its contradictory complexities, its inherent wacky beauty and built-in incongruities.

Amy Gerstler