Interview with Gabriel Villa

Neoteric Art: Give us a little history on yourself.

Gabriel Villa: I was born in 1965 in El Paso, Texas. My parents met and married in the 1950’s in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and had seven children, six boys and one sister. My sister is the youngest of my siblings and I am the youngest of the boys. My childhood was rich with love and laughter. I was three years old when my family moved into what became my childhood home.

Many things have influenced my life and my work including: Family, U.S Texas/Mexico Border Culture, American Sports, 1960’s Counter Culture, 1980’s Reaganomics, Indigenous and Western Art. I decided to become an artist when I was in my early twenties. However, the idea of someone making a living and identifying as an artist was something initially foreign to me. It was not until I started taking college courses that I met professors that identified as artists. Since, creativity and art production have been a priority and a constant in my life.

NA: Discuss your work/thought process when starting a new piece.

GV: Generally a work begins by something I see while walking, driving etc. It may be an individual in my neighborhood or it may be an object or scene somewhere in Chicago or while traveling. I’ve trained myself to take a mental snapshot of the location and eventually if this image keeps tugging at me I return to the site and snap a photograph.

Although I work with mostly painting and drawing I think of my work as archiving and constructing. I lift images from what I see in my surroundings. I am a scavenger of images. I am drawn to people and imagery that are emotionally charged.

Seeking subject mater is a crucial part of my creative process. I am interested in chance, randomness and surprise that “every day life” offers.

NA: Recently you’ve been focusing on drawing. Discuss your drawing and how it compares to your other mediums: painting, mixed media and public work.

GV: In 2008, after a long hiatus from drawing I returned to drawing and started working exclusively on paper. There was a lot going on and I suddenly decided to change directions. Something clicked in my head and I started to place an emphasis on creativity and idea rather than focusing on one particular art medium.

Prior to this period I was bit of a die hard painter, now I have a different point of view on art making. I believe an artist should select materials and applications that best support his or her concepts. Because drawing is very immediate it is better suited for certain goals. Painting, for me takes longer to resolve. Drawing is like a short story. Painting is like a novel.

NA: From 2005-2011 you served as director for Yollocalli Arts Reach, a youth initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art. Please elaborate on your role as director.

GV: Yollocalli Arts Reach is an arts education and career-training program for teens and young adults. The Yollocalli model is based on creating a space for youth to partner with practicing artists, access the tools necessary to realize their own vision and build skills as emerging artists. Located in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Yollocalli is an open forum for experimentation in art making based on issues in art, history, and youth culture.

I started at Yollocalli Arts Reach in 2005 as the Youth Programs Coordinator and later was promoted and served as Director. It was a great job and I learned a great deal of valuable skills, including staff management, grant and curriculum writing, youth development, building community partnerships and of course working with many talented Chicago based artist.

NA: You recently exhibited at MDW Fair. How was your experience?

GV: Over all it was a positive experience. MDW introduced my work to a new audience. It was a pleasure to exhibit my work with artist Nicole Marroquin and work with Curator, Trevor Martin from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. MDW introduced me to the work of many Chicago Based artists including Trevor Martin’s Performance work. I met a handful of collectors, gallery directors and a handful of inquisitive art students.

I will continue to participate in these types of venues. It is one way for one’s work to be evaluated and every once in a while you connect with people that really get your work. My work calls to people who respond to personal, emotive –expressionist work. My work is definitely not entertaining or conceptual. I want people to feel as if they are walking into my brain when they are experiencing my work. Art venues like MD are a good way to start fostering an audience to one’s work.

NA: Discuss your recent book project, “The Art of Gabriel Villa”.

GV: A few years back I was teaching as an artist in residence at Cristo Rey High School, located in Chicago. There I met an instructor by the name of Francisco Pina, at the time also the editor of ContraTiempo. ContraTiempo is a Spanish art and culture newspaper that feature artists and writers. I introduced to my paintings to him. He became a supporter of my work.

Francisco approached me with the idea of collaborating on a self – published catalog. The catalog featured works from 1990- 2005. At the time no one knew who I was (many still don’t). I didn’t have any money and I had many paintings and drawings unfamiliar to many people. I accepted the idea and the partnership. My role was to raise money and write grants for the collaborative project, which I had zero experience. Long story short, we landed a few grants and convinced a few collectors to support the project and I started working at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Yollocalli Arts Reach) to raise the funds. I worked at NMMA longer than I intended to because I enjoyed it so much.

Professionally, this was a good move to self-publish. This got the ball rolling and people started to become aware of my work. This publication led to accepting many other opportunities.

NA: Regarding your art career, where would you like to be five years down the road?

GV: Above ground.