Artist Chat | Jason Villegas
When it comes to New York based artist Jason Villegas, the sky’s the limit. The sculptor, painter and comic-book maker explores fashion logos, animals, nudes and weaponry to create humorous and absurd engagements for his viewers. These engagements mirror our societal conditioning.
Images and icons of both high and low consumer cultures are put in the same ring. The end result is an unpolished and coarsely-made tribute to global capitalism and progress.
We took some time to chat to him about his motivations, Japanese pop culture and leaving behind a legacy.
Pop culture, consumerism and the way people absorb and appropriate products and imagery are all inspirations.
I particularly enjoy street art in developing nations where you see bootleg imagery of cartoons, or pop icons transformed and mutated into new versions. These mutant images are often absurd, ugly, and a little bit scary. It’s an ugly kind of beauty that I appreciate.
Since I was kid watching American cartoons made by Japanese animators I’ve had an interest in Japanese pop culture, anime and manga. I’m also obsessed with Japanese culture generally from the Shinto spiritual iconography down to Japanese junk food and snack wrappings. The super cute concept of “Kawaii”, Sanrio-like characters [the company behind Hello Kitty], and the immense amount of products these characters generate have been a big influence on my aesthetics.
My practice is an imitation of the natural way ideas and images get filtered through society and now thanks to instantaneous communication, everything is being consumed and regurgitated globally.
I’m drawn to pattern, colour and texture so it’s natural for me to make my work with a heavy use of textiles. I enjoy spreading my imagery over a vast output of media making drawings, paintings, sculpture, video and installations.
Who are your main influences?
Hayao Miyazaki and his work with Studio Ghibli has been a huge influence. Other artists I have to give credit to are Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Richard Coleman and Marcel Dzama.
What attracts you to installations?
I love sculpture because you can walk around it and I love installation because you can walk inside of it – well, a lot of it anyway. It’s a different world compared with gallery shows. I love drawings and paintings too, but the shows that make me feel impressed and jealous always involve large sculpture and installation.
What sort of reaction do you normally get from your work?
I’ve been lucky in that I usually get a really positive response. Even when it’s pushing obscene or disturbing fronts I’ve managed to avoid negative encounters. I’m sure I’ve not always delivered a stellar performance and have been down on myself at times thinking I could’ve done better, but as of yet it’s just me being my worst critic.
I’d also rather someone react harshly, saying my work really bothered them or they hate the subject or delivery than think my work is uneventful or underwhelming.
You say that you create humorous and absurd engagements, which mirror societal conditioning. Can you give us an example in one of your works?
I’m working on a new body of paintings using motifs and characters in a cartoon or comic-book style. I’ve been developing it for a while now. Celestial and natural settings are done in a fantasy style with figures and animals caught within layers of foliage, logs, sales banners, water, stars, fire, clouds and earth.
Concurrently, I’m developing comic books to further explore characters and create more imaginative narratives. As an end result I’m hoping to do some kind of Kickstarter fundraising campaign to get a professional graphic-novel type of product made about these stories and characters.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a new body of paintings using some motifs and characters that I have been developing for awhile now in a cartoon or comic book style. Celestial and Natural settings are done in a fantasy style with figures and animals caught within layers of foliage, logs, sales banners, water, stars, fire, clouds, and earth. I am concurrently developing comic books to develop characters further and create more imaginative narratives that can’t be expressed as clearly in singular still imagery. I am hoping to do some kind of kick-starter online fund raising campaign to get a professional graphic novel style product made as an end result of building the stories and characters.
What has been the high point in your career?
I toured with a group show called Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement, which was a very large selection of artists put on by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Any major museum exhibition makes you feel quite accomplished as an artist, but with this one I travelled to multiple major contemporary art museums across the States and Mexico. It was an amazing few years of my life that made me feel like I’d made it.
During its run I also acquired a solo exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, had art collected by El Museo del Barrio in New York City, and sold quite a few pieces of artwork on my own. All in all, it was a magical time for my art career.
What are you working towards in the future?
If I’m to have a bright future I really need to get a handle on balancing my studio practice with my office practice — meaning I need to be more active in developing and maintaining my online presence.
I hope to revitalise my website and get my online commerce site going as well where people of all walks of life can acquire and afford small artworks.
I’ve enjoyed creating public art through various organisations and grants. But I want to take it up a notch and make some permanent pieces with considerable budgets, because my goal is to leave substantial and important pieces behind on this Earth when I depart.