Valenzuela borrowed the title for this series from Clement Greenberg’s 1955 essay American Type, in which Greenberg argued that the Abstract Expressionist paintings of that period were distinct in their approach from European predecessors and, as a result, marked the first time that American art became a leading influence. There is a clear visual affinity between Valenzuela’s highly graphic works and the “black and white oils” of Gorky, De Kooning, Pollock, and Kline. While Greenberg assessed these works in purely formal terms, identifying the ways in which they broke with cubist space, Valenzuela goes a step further by inserting socio-political associations into this visual language.
Valenzuela asserts that “the absence of content has become the American gold.” His pictures focus on how purely formal art can obscure power structures and delimit cultural representation. By photographing large hand-made assemblages within his studio, constructed from raw building materials and installed in his own frames, labor itself becomes a central theme throughout the work. Valenzuela has noted that the sensibility of the work is also connected with the New Topographics photographer Lewis Baltz and his stark depictions of suburban developments and tract houses that sprawl across our western landscape. As a result, Valenzuela has co-opted the formalism of some of America’s most highly valued art. Through his unique approach, he exposes the contrast between that commodification and an undocumented labor force relegated to living in the shadows, a world he experienced first-hand when he came to North America, first arriving in Canada where he worked as a day laborer in construction jobs, and then later when he moved to the west coast of the U.S.