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  • Words by Marga Buenaventura.           "Head Space," a series of collages, is now on view at Univers.

09/11/14 Ricky Villabona On “Head Space,” His Installation at Univers

For most artists, creation is an escape from the mundane. Visual artist Ricky Villabona, however, does not shun his commercial roots when faced with a blank canvas. In fact, his photography for local magazines has hugely inspired his art, where fashion represents something new and immediate.

Villabona was not a classically trained artist. Between working as a commercial director for local brands such as Pantene and Pond’s, he found time to paint abstract art. Influenced by pop culture obsessions, this work was displayed at his first one-man show at the Ayala Museum early this year.

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As the new artist in residence at Univers, Villabona has turned from abstract painting to collage. In “Head Space,” a series unveiled at the store this month, his mixed media pieces reveal the geometric checkerboard patterns often seen in his paintings.

Lately, he’s been inspired to experiment with jigsaw puzzles after falling in love with New York artist Kent Rogowski’s work. “I resisted trying it because it has been done,” Villabona explains, “but I really wanted to do it, so now I’m putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle first. It has a thousand pieces and it has taken me more than a week, but that’s okay. I just have to do this and see where it leads me.”

Amid the daily grind of his commercial work, NOUS chats with the creative hyphenate to talk about becoming too analytical, collecting couture as art, and the cause behind his collages at Univers, which you’ll need to visit to see.

Why the shift from painting to collage?

I was painting something huge and I felt that it was going nowhere. The process felt too thought out, so I decided to stop it and do stuff on my sketchbook. It was while I was doing this that I thought of making collages. I took breaks to look at art and photography books in my collection. Taking a breather just allowed my mind to be receptive. I think it was while looking at collages made with jigsaw puzzles that I thought of cutting up lenticular postcards and rearranging and mixing them in collages. The canvases are still staring at me and I think I have new ideas for painting after doing the collages.

What’s the collage-making process for you?

I thought of cutting up lenticular postcards. At first, I wanted the collage to be made up purely of these little squares.  When I put together the first one, I had this magazine in hand and I cut it up into shapes that I tried out with the cut-up pieces of postcards. My process in painting is similar to that too. I paint something, and I try something, and I cover something. It’s like an ongoing process of building and breaking down and building again. I wanted these collages to look quite precious, fragile and simple.  That led me to use pencil, watercolor, technical pens along with the postcard pieces.

So I  imagine you plan your art less now these days? 

I have an idea of what I want to come up with, but personally, I’ve found that less planning works for me with the kind of work I do. So, I just proceed to handle the materials, do things with them, and allow them to tell me what can happen. It involves a lot of feeling. Maybe, it works for me because I’m, by default, an analytical person. Doing art takes me away from too much analysis. It’s therapy for me. Here, I can allow myself to be without having to think too much, although sometimes, I see my usual analytical self threatening to work its way into my art. I just have to be fully aware of that. With the collages, I started out with an idea of cutting up lenticular postcards and rearranging them.  The watercolor and the pencils came in later as I worked on the cut-up pieces. They were added to the idea because, around that time I was working on them, I had this renewed interest in Richard Tuttle’s work. Inspiration from existing art is also one thing that helps start up something for me. In my show, “Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain,” I was mainly influenced by the colors of Wayne Thiebaud.  So, I had a lot of pastels, which were quite different from the previous paintings.

Does your commercial work and photography inform your painting in some way?

My work in directing TV  commercials involves a lot of decisions regarding the design of graphics and the composition of the image. It’s the same with photography. Photography has had a big influence on what I paint or assemble, in the case of the collages I’ve done recently. My two favorite photographers are Man Ray and Nick Knight–because they were not afraid to do new and different things with photography. They both have very graphic qualities about their photographs, and I like the otherworldly feel about their work. And both photographers worked with fashion. To be more specific about it, it is fashion photography that has had a huge influence on my work, whether it involves art or TV commercials. It probably is because there’s always something new happening with fashion.  Fashion is an immediate and very available form of self-expression.

Have you thought of using your prints on clothing?

Funny you should ask that, because I had this idea before of coming up with tote bags and shirts a long time ago. I remember showing my friend, Rocky, a tote bag I designed myself to give away as Christmas presents to my advertising clients. He told me that it was good enough to be sold in a store. So, ever since then, I’ve had this mini dream of coming up with stuff to sell in a store with my illustrations. That was around the time I was getting a bit bored with directing TV commercials. I once talked to a potential partner, but what he said was, “Did you ever imagine these things in a big way?” He was talking about my drawings on my iPad as art–something bigger than the canvas of t-shirts and bags. That probably planted a seed in my mind.

So, eventually, I ended up doing art. I did not really plan this. It just grew by talking to people and having them contribute to whatever it was I was doing and sharing with them. And I am still open to doing art for clothes. I don’t buy a lot of expensive clothing anymore, but I used to buy them because I think I was more interested in the crafting and the design and what they expressed, than in wearing them. I have a lot of quirky shoes I have not really worn much. I remember one time, I was in the Comme des Garçons shop in New York, and there was this tutu dress which looked really beautiful. I told the sales clerk, if I had the money and space, I’d buy it just to keep it. She said that Karl Lagerfeld did that a lot: buy clothes by other designers and just keep them for looking. Someday, when I have his kind of wealth, I’d probably do it, but I’d probably have to search eBay first.