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Emilio Villalba - A Modern Master

Words:

Edd Norval
March 30, 2022

Emilio Villabla is a Mexican-American painter, who moved from his career in VFX for film and television to study fine arts. The inflection of popular culture is very clear on his paintings that, otherwise, borrow more from the Old Masters than from Old Spice commercials.

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Highlighting universal and recognisable motifs from American popular culture, like the iconic laced gridiron football, low-rider rims or cans of beer, Villalba infuses them with a sense of the timeless, thanks in large part to his expressive brush strokes and clear respect towards the history of still life and figurative art.


Each character, painted observationally, is imbued with a sense of psychology and cerebral interpretation, certain features and characteristics enhanced to bring the paintings away from realism and closer to the Impressionist portraits of Vincent van Gogh. When the paintings are objects, rather than people, his process is slightly different, described thusly by the artist:


These paintings are visual journals or clusters of objects and ideas that appear or have appeared in my life.  I’m not interested in creating a single story line, so I cluster and scatter the objects around to create a non-linear storyline that can be uniquely interpreted by the viewer.

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What’s the commonality between the two? Life. These are things that he sees, things that are experienced. The energy from a person might vary to a pair of shoes that Villabla captures, but nonetheless, they are things that can be seen and touched, captured by raw oil on canvas, adding to the reality of each image through the artist's deeply textural approach. By immortalising an object through the painting, it too becomes a tangible part of the subject’s life-cycle.


One such feature and one that the artist receives a lot of feedback for, is the eyes. Slightly enlarged and accentuated, their comic appeal draws the audience directly towards them, without ever coming across as a naff gimmick, rather an artistic flourish that's in-keeping with the general mood of his other works.


Always embodying a slightly off-kilter dynamic, Villalba’s artistic sensibility has recently caught the eye of Valentino, with the artistic creating a very novel, bold and interesting layered portrait of a bright green handbag in a bath, a mirrored self-portrait of himself being reflected too - one of his slightly ironic signatures.

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The accompanying video showing the process for the campaign's painting can be seen on the artist’s Instagram which is well worth a look, offering a behind-the-scenes perspective into his life and work. His slice-of-life subjects and unique style seem tailor-made for showcasing and drawing attention to things, much like an artistic brand of advertising, grounding each subject within entirely believable and relatable contexts for its userbase.


Tying up the styles of Old Masters, particularly those working within impressionist portraiture and still life, with a very contemporary aesthetic, taking influence from fashion photography and post-Internet art, Villalba is a young artist still exploring who he is and what his paintings can be. There’s a real energy and excitement about watching somebody emerge and, at this moment, there are few more promising than him.

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