We began filming with artist Vincent Valdez at his home studio on September 8, 2010. We were starting production on our eighth short documentary film in a series created in association with Glasstire.com. The series had already followed a variety of Texas-based artists, but Glasstire had been interested in us working with Vincent since early 2009.
Our initial studio visit with Vincent had included a number of in-progress works, but we knew right away that his new painting “John” had a very important story behind it. The large scale painting portrayed Vincent’s childhood best friend John Holt Jr. An Army combat medic, John died in 2009 after serving in Iraq. John’s passing had occurred just a little over a year before the time we began filming, and Vincent was still coming to terms with the loss.
Just a couple months before John’s death, Vincent had taken a portrait series of his friend in their childhood neighborhood on the Southside of San Antonio. Vincent described these final moments with John during the photo shoot in our interview for the documentary. His description of the scene was so vivid we decided to recreate it using a friend of the family who had also served in Iraq. In the film, it’s not made totally clear whether or not the photoshoot scene is real. In Vincent’s painting of John he combined the photograph above with a still from a war movie, and an actual war photograph. Vincent is knowingly collaging actual moments and histories to create his own invented history. We found this idea of forcing the audience to question the reality of the image inspiring, and decided to do the same in our own recreation scenes below.
“I hadnʼt noticed anything different about him until we were finishing up the photo shoot and we were walking back to his Momʼs house in the neighborhood and I asked him about his experience as a Combat Medic in Iraq and immediately, I mean instantly, I saw this veil just kind of drape over his face and It was almost as I had been creating all of this work all of these years to arrive at this one point were these fictional portraits that I was creating were about John without me even realizing it, because he was the real deal come to life.”
– Vincent Valdez
One of our favorite scenes in the film features Vincent listening back to audio he recorded on his phone during John’s funeral. The haunting sounds captured inspired a series of six paintings which share the title of our film “Excerpts for John”. Vincent talks about the audio captured while his paintings illustrate the sounds of horse hoofs, rain, mourners, a rifle salute, and a ghost train heard in the distance. We were mostly excited about what Vincent brought to this film, not only his incredible artwork, and the story of his friend, but his talent as a musician. Vincent performs on trumpet in his studio throughout the film. Practicing trumpet was originally just part of his routine in the studio, but in the film his music initially suggests grieving, and eventually acceptance with his performance of “Amazing Grace” at the end of the film.
We are incredibly grateful to Vincent, his family, and everyone who made this film possible. We never could have anticipated that it would take us two years to reach the completion of the film, but we feel it’s a major step forward in our development as filmmakers. Watch the completed film below:
Synopsis: Vincent Valdez: Excerpts for John is the eighth film in a series of short documentaries produced by Walley Films in association with Glasstire.com. Filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley began documenting the creation of a large scale painting by artist Vincent Valdez in the fall of 2010. The painting depicts Vincent’s childhood best friend John Holt Jr. An Army combat medic, John died in 2009 after serving in Iraq. The couple followed Vincent over the course of two years as he completed the painting and came to terms with the loss of his friend. The short documentary film includes musical tributes to John performed by Vincent on trumpet, recreations of Vincent’s last moments with John, and insight into the creation of a powerful portrait of a soldier lost in the fog of war. Learn more about the artist at VincentValdezofficialsite.com.