Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

“Color Affects space”: Leo Valledor, Race, and Reception

Objectives: To understand how Leo Valledor’s Filipino American identity shaped his art and the reception of his work by the art community; to learn how to brainstorm substantive interview questions.

Portrait of Leo Valledor.

Common Core State Standards Addressed

SL6.1. 1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacherled) with diverse partners on topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

6.VA:Re7.2. Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.

7.VA:Cn11. Analyze how response to art is influenced by understanding the time and place in which it was created, the available resources, and cultural uses.

Prof.VA:Cn11. Describe how knowledge of culture, traditions, and history may influence personal responses to art.

W.6.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


• Devices with internet access or printouts of the necessary images and the following articles:

• Printouts of the worksheet “Leo Valledor Timeline”

• Pens/pencils and Post-it notes


1. Introduce the lesson (10 min.). As an opening, project the following quote and read it out loud:

“Color affects space, the harmony stays the same. . .  I was working with this kind of form, which is optic, and all I did was take out these . . bands . . . and make a zigzag out of them, just cut them in half, so the two colors would interchange.” (Leo Valledor quoted in Bourdan 2012, 23)

Show images of Current and For M, which employ the zigzag motif.

  • Poet Ted Berrigan describes Valledor’s use of color this way: “Leo Valledor magically invokes moods of nature with painting that consists simply of a number of bands of color juxtaposed in a manner that seems intuitively correct. His only ‘trick,’ to zigzag one of the bands, somehow is responsible for all kinds of miracles, conjuring up, in different paintings, sky, a summer afternoon, twilight, blue sea, mist.” (Rinder n.d.)
  • However, NYU professor Melissa Rachleff posits that Valledor’s use of color was not just an aesthetic choice, but a social-political statement as well (at 36:50 in this video): “’Color affects space’ in that one’s race determines the social spaces one can enter and move through. As a Filipino American who grew up in a multiracial community, Valledor later had to maneuver through art spaces dominated by white men. By bringing colors together in a way that creates both ‘interchange’ and ‘harmony,’ Valledor may have been sharing a social vision, not just an artistic one.”
  • Show the image of the Park Place Gallery artists on pp. 4–5 of this issue of Archives of American Art: Ask students: What does Valledor’s placement in the picture suggest about him? (You can also show how one exhibition used the title Leo Valledor: The Outsider of Park Place.)

2. Divide students into five groups. Give each group one of the articles to read; as they read, they should use the worksheet to guide their notetaking. Within groups, students should share their answers to confirm they’re all coming away with the same information. (20 min.)

3. Create “jigsaw teams”—have students regroup into five new teams, with each including at least one member from each of the original five reading groups. Have students share out in their new teams what they learned from their reading; with all five articles represented
in the team, students can help each other complete the worksheet. (20 min.)

4. Homework: Have students complete the back side of the worksheet, which asks them to brainstorm questions they would ask Valledor if they could interview him.

  • Recap (15 min.): Drawing from yesterday’s groupwork, have students volunteer the key social-political factors that shaped Valledor’s identity and his career as an artist. End by reinforcing this point from the Abad article: “An ongoing choreography of omission and retrieval has defined art history. Yet I kept wondering how someone ever-present at such defining moments could be forgotten. Race, inevitably, played a part in this erasure.”
  • Activity (30 min.)
    a. Have students write each question they brainstormed last night on a Post-it and post it on the board.
    b. After all of the questions have been posted, read them out loud, and as a group. organize them by topic (examples: race relations, identity, artistic method, New York art community, etc.).
    c. As a group, decide which questions stand out as the ones that would lead to the richest conversation. Separate these questions from the rest and decide the order to ask them in (how might the questions build upon each other smoothly and logically?).
  • Wrap up (5 min.): Are any of our final questions for Valledor ones we could ask artists today? Have things changed much for artists of color — why or why not?

Possible Extension for Grades 11–12, College:

1. To learn more about Valledor’s time growing up in San Francisco, read the transcript of artist Carlos Villa’s interview with Paul Karlstrom for the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Art. Villa was Valledor’s cousin and saw Leo as an important inspiration and
mentor. The interview contains vivid anecdotes of the two artists’ upbringings and the various cultural influences that shaped their art.

2. To learn about more about Filipino American artists, explore Worlds in Collision, a website built by Villa that provides biographies, interviews, and other resources.

3. In the panel discussion “Leo Valledor: Color as Space,” Melissa Rachleff invites the audience to compare Valledor’s A.I.R. (Artist in Residence) to the Philippine national flag (at 40:08 in the video). Examine the two images linked below:

Read about the colors and symbolism in the Philippine flag and then wrestle with these questions: Given what you’ve learned about Valledor from your readings and discussions, what message do you think Valledor is trying to convey by using the same colors and similar shapes as in the flag, but in different sizes and configuration? What does the painting’s title suggest?

4. In February 2020, the León Gallery in Manila ran an essay contest in which participants wrote about why Valledor, “The Outsider of Park Place,” should be celebrated along with “his more famous contemporaries.” If you were to enter this contest, what would you write?

Download the teacher packet from sidebar above for complete instructions.

For more lessons based on Leo Valledor, visit the artist’s teacher packet.