Artist’s work taps into big issues of life
“Landscape: Alley South Ashland and 18th Street” is one of Gabriel Villa’s paintings featured in his “My Home is My Brain” exhibit.
‘My Home is My Brain’
Triton College Art Gallery, Fine Arts Building (J-Building), 2000 Fifth Ave., River Grove
Artist reception 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, March 1; exhibit runs through April 19
Admission is free.
(708) 456-0300, ext. 3589 or visit www.triton.edu/entertainment
The more Chicago artist Gabriel Villa paints, the more he is aware that the artistic process reaches well beyond acrylic paint on canvas.
Villa, based in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, will hold his first exhibition at the Triton College Art Gallery, “My Home is My Brain,” from Feb. 25 to April 19.
“My Home is My Brain” will include about 20 drawings and acrylic paintings — mostly paintings, Villa said — reflecting his interest in “the big issues,” like life, our relationship to time, and death. Whereas discussing these topics in conversation “always seems kind of cheesy,” Villa explained, “I tap into them from my painting.”
“In person I’m silly and kind of humorous; I try not to take myself too seriously,” Villa said. “But when I’m painting, something happens to me that’s more dark and critical. Overall, my work comes from a personal source.”
Villa, 47, also cites geography as a source of inspiration. Raised in El Paso, Texas, Villa remained there until his mid-20s, working blue collar jobs which he enjoyed for their introduction to a wide range of people. Encouraged by his older brother to take art classes, Villa enrolled in a studio art class in his early 20s and realized art was it.
“I was one of those kids who drew all the time but didn’t really know you could become an artist,” he said.
Villa began studying at a local community college and then completed a bachelor of fine arts degree from Corpus Christi State University-Texas A&M. After attending an artist’s residency program in Skowhegan, Maine, he earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Delaware.
While studying, Villa immersed himself in reading about favorite artists, such as Picasso, Goya and Vincent Van Gogh. Reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, strongly influenced Villa’s conception of being an artist.
“That was a big turning point, realizing that art is more about thinking than anything else,” he said. “It’s more than just a physical process of making something. It’s a lifestyle.”
Villa landed in Chicago in 1997. In 2009 he had a role in what is known as the Bridgeport mural censorship debate. In essence, the debate centered on a mural Villa was commissioned to paint on the outside wall of a privately owned bar and liquor store in Bridgeport, according to WBEZ. The mural depicted three Chicago Police Department blue light cameras that carried the CPD logo along with other images, like a crucified Christ, a deer head and a skull. Though Villa maintained the mural was not meant to disrespect the police or the city, it was painted over at the request of 11th Ward Alderman James Balcer.
Reflecting on the work of an artist, Villa said, “There are always trends in art. One of them that’s big right now is the artist as an educator or a social soldier or an activist. I’ve been affected by that. I’ve been exploring and analyzing that, but a lot of my paintings also go back to my personal roots.”
The Triton exhibit will feature works loosely connected by Villa’s thought processes.
“It is difficult to come up with a title that captures the essence of a show,” Villa said. “But there are several things that tie everything together. One of them is Chicago; geography and the things that I see. There is some social commentary but overall it’s more like an internal dialog. There’s something that happens when I start painting and time just slows down. The viewer only gets the by-product.”
But that said, Villa notes a sense of satisfaction when a viewer relates to one of his paintings.
“It is rewarding when people come up and comment on a work and I realize it’s communicated to the viewer; not literally but at some level of connection where the viewer knows the artist is digging deep,” he said. “That comes from manipulation of the materials and the artist’s connection to the materials and the subject matter. That’s hard to do. It doesn’t always happen.”