By Hannah Jo Uy
Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta
An act of faith—this is how artist Migs Villanueva describes her creative process. As a painter known for an oeuvre that invokes a sense of nostalgia, innocence, and purity, she believes that creativity is “dipping into the subconscious” to make something new. The artist is also deeply drawn to the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi,” known for recognizing the beauty behind “the perfect imperfection.”
“I find rawness, being a bit out of sorts, as more aesthetically pleasing than the perfectly crafted art,” she says.
In this manner, Villanueva allows life, in all its chaos, to seep into her artworks, making each piece vibrant and pulsating with energy. The very process is spontaneous, as she unleashes catharsis onto the canvas, subscribing to impulsive and extemporaneous work. “I have no methods set, even for myself by myself,” she says. “It stems, I think, from my aversion to repeating myself. So even the way I paint is never consistent. If I have done it a certain way before, then I would automatically do it differently next time.”
For Villanueva, being too intellectual is counterproductive to the whole artistic process. “I find that when there is a plan or a working sketch, I get too cerebral and my work looks stiff,” she explains. “I am happiest when I begin work from nothing, and I am just mark-making and pouring paint on the canvas. Those marks and washes will then tell me where to go next. Every move is dictated by the last strokes made.”
Surrendering to the flow of the brush was not something that came naturally to her. In fact, she considers it a skill she obtained as part of her evolution as an artist. Over the years, she indulges in greater freedom as a painter. “Where I used to grapple with self-consciousness and fear of criticism or failure, I am now more emotionally relaxed when I work,” she adds.
Almost purely, in nostalgia, she has of late experienced a rising desire to imbue her work with a grander narrative, and use the platform to communicate strongly-held statements and beliefs. “Now that I feel emotionally and psychically looser as a painter,” she remarks. “I feel like I want to go to a different direction—say more, tell bigger stories.”
In both disciplines, you can communicate on several levels, but painting is more forgiving.
Recently, these stories have been directed toward the mischief of children. “What crazy funny things they say,” she offers, pointing to her recent show at the last ManilaArt, on kids vandalizing walls and furnitures. “On a deeper level, I’m all about pure spirit and perfect innocence,” she says. “That’s why I paint children. There’s nowhere else we can find that purity other than in kids.”
The desire to tell stories is deeply instilled in Villanueva, who is both a visual and literary artist. Though her commitment to painting has not afforded her the time to be the prolific writer she used to be, the artist enjoys the different modes of expression. “The two disciplines require different brain muscles, I think,” she says. “Writing stories utilize both the left and the right cortices: it’s imagery and language and form and structure. The discipline is more intellectually taxing.”
In painting, however, Villanueva “disappears into a void,” losing herself in the process, being dictated instead of being a dictator, and switching off her cerebral consciousness, when possible, before entering into a dreamlike state.
“In both disciplines, you can communicate on several levels,” she says, “but painting is more forgiving.”
Villanueva recently celebrated an intersection of these two disciplines in “Mark My Words,” a collaborative show with writer Rica Bolipata Santos. The collection showcases Villanueva’s signature style, superimposed with nuggets of wisdom, candid observations, and poignant aphorisms from Santos. The latter’s Facebook posts, Villanueva describes, was the impetus to the project. “She makes really cadenced, well-thought out, creatively-written stuff on Facebook, and there were times I thought, ‘Hmm, my waifs could say that,’” Villanueva says. This prompted her to reach out to Santos for a collaboration, to which the writer agreed. “We sat on it for years,” says Villanueva. “Finally, I said, okay, send me lines, and I will send you images. We started there. Some paintings came from her lines, some of her lines came from my images.” The result is works which, as described in Santos’ artist’s statement, “illuminate the dark corners of the world.”
“Mark My Words,” a collaboration between artist and writer Migs Villanueva and Rica Bolipata Santos is on view until Dec. 7, at the Saturday Group Gallery, 4th Level, East Wing, The Shangri-La Plaza Mall.