Frame 61

Michael Villarreal

Frame 61
Michael Villarreal

"The household items are from a memory that has passed, and the only way I can make them is from the vague details I have retained."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

Growing up I have always had the tendency to draw, or do anything creative with my hands. This was something my parents noticed early on. My father, whom works at a U-haul, use to bring me computer paper to draw on as a way to show his support. Both my parents were equally supportive. I was an observant child which is something my work relies on heavily today. The way I taught myself to draw was through my curiosity of looking at things as they are, how they function, then go home, and draw whatever it was from memory.

Years later, High School ended and decisions as an adult where in full throttle and my job at a convenient store was underway. After 2 years, I decided to attend community college then transferred to Texas State University until I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts. This was something unprecedented in my family. Both my parents never graduated High School and my sibling were already deep into their careers and creating families.

As an undergrad at Texas State University, I began to find clarity in my path towards becoming an artist. The community, friends, and the professors at Texas State were a huge part of it and through their support my paintings developed quickly. Painting a portrait was my main focus, but towards the end of my undergrad career the portraits began to simplify; abstracted forms, shapes, and the materiality of the paint became important in my process.

Currently, I am attending graduate school pursuing an MFA in Studio Art at University of Nebraska- Lincoln. So far, it has been quite the ride. My paintings have changed drastically to a point of not using large amounts of oil paint, or keeping oil paint out of the work completely. I decided to challenge the idea of painting taking myself in a completely different direction by moving a step backwards to work with representation again. Primarily, my work is based on domestic objects derived from memories and past experiences.

I am scheduled to graduate from UNL May, 2017.

Installation view, 2016

No Wiggle Room, Spray paint, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on wood structure, 2016

Your work is very play-full, they remind us of kids play sets and/or play doe. They are inviting but at the same time uncomfortable and off kilter. Would you say that the subject of childhood is one of the main thoughts behind your work?

Yes, childhood is an important aspect of my work. About a year ago, I was having some issues trying to find clarity as I was making work that intentionally responded to my studio. I was manipulating objects that would accumulate in my studio such as empty cans, containers, boxes, etc. In doing so, the work started to have a child-like aesthetic to it. Changing the objects original function/identity gave me an epiphany. Ever since I was born my family lived rural, about 15 minutes from the nearest town. Living rural gave me a lot of time to look at things like clouds, trees, and patience to study them in detail— it was total boredom. 

Taking these observations, I would go home to draw everything from memory to create invented environments. Drawing characters to occupy these environments was also important to me whether they were from Saturday morning cartoons or creations of my own.

My current work takes the idea of an invented environment where I make household items in hopes to resemble a setting. My intention is to give the viewer a sense of place. Instead of putting forth a character to occupy these environments the objects sometimes take on humanized/anthropomorphic qualities of their own which in turn creates a type of psychology. The work can become humorous, or uncomfortable depending on the visual information the viewer wants to pull from it.

Other Ways, 2016, Spray paint, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on wood structure, 96x22x4cm

Untitled (Window Blinds), 2015, Acrylic, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on panel, 51x44x3.75in

Untitled (Window Blinds II), 2016, Spray paint, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on panel, 50x44x9in

A Little Birdie Told Me. 2016, Spray-paint, primer, joint-compound and insulation foam on panel, 31.5x23.5x5in

The sculptures you make depict household items, it has an uncanny feel to them. Could you talk about the use of household objects and the thoughts behind it?

Depicting household items became a part of my work after experimenting with found objects in my studio. Manipulating objects started to remind me of when my father would rummage through the storage units at the U-haul where he works, and bring home items that were a necessity to live comfortably. This would include, beds, couches, window blinds, toys, televisions, and anything else with a functionality.

The household items I do depict all have a type of narrative to give them integrity. At times, the items individually become a portrait of someone in my family based from my childhood. For example, “No Wiggle Room” is a representation of a bunkbed, the top portion to be exact.

When I was a child my two younger siblings and I had to share the bed while my older sister occupied the bottom. This is how we slept for years. My intention was to depict a bed that would hang high as if a child is looking up at it, and make it smaller than a normal twin size mattress. The outcome of the bed became inviting through its bulbous play-full appearance, but looks as though it would be uncomfortable to sleep on and a bit dangerous.

The window blinds I make are in relation to my father. My father was a light sleeper and a protective person. At night the slightest noise outside would wake him up and he’d be quick on his feet looking out between the slats into the night. I wanted the window blinds to have anthropomorphic features, or human characteristics, as if they are the thing taunting him in hopes to gain his attention.

Untitled (Yellow Broom), 2015, Oil paint, insulation foam on panel, 12x15x4.5in

Untitled (Yellow Broom), 2015, Oil paint, insulation foam on panel, 12x15x4.5in

Most of your work plays on the physical melting away, almost like reality disintegrating before our eyes. Could you talk about the reasons for this?

I think the reason you get a sense of the work melting away is from my intention to keep a relationship to painting, but I have done away with that thought so the work is not limited to that type of formality. Although this may be, reality disintegrating is a great analogy toward the memories I conjure up, or even dreams I depict. The household items are from a memory that has passed, and the only way I can make them is from the vague details I have retained.

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

Using household items should give the viewer a sense of familiarity. Although, I create narratives for the work, I am aware the viewer may have their own interpretation about what an individual object means to them. That is what I enjoy about household items, and to hear the relationships people have with them. In the end, I want the work to to be approachable. Looking at the time line of my work, from painting portraits to creating household items, there has always been a visceral response because of its materiality or its appearance. This is something I want to continue as I keep making.

Nebraska Sky (Framed Painting), 2015, Spray paint, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on panel, 46x33x4.5in

Nebraska Sky (Framed Painting), 2015, Spray paint, primer, joint compound, and insulation foam on panel, 46x33x4.5in

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?

My studio is a mess. I have a pile of ripped up insulation foam in the corner, unused oil paint under my table, a large glass table top I use as a palette that rarely gets used as a palette. I accumulate objects to potentially change them into something else. It’s a huge mess, but I find that I am comfortable working this way.

When I am creating the sculptures, the majority of my time is spent coating the insulation foam or random objects and sanding in-between coats which I then set to repeat until I am satisfied with the surface. As you can imagine, this process takes time and patience.

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

It would be difficult for me to pin-point exact works that resonate with me as I am one who looks at a ton of contemporary art, daily, in person and online. One thing is certain, from all the work I do look at can certainly have a subconscious influence which can visually be seen in my work at times. I like to take when taking is appropriate.

Here is a list of artist I do enjoy: Robert Gober, Tamera Seal, Del Harrow, Devin Troy Strother, Matthew Ronay, Jeff Koons, Claus Oldenburg, Light and Space artist, Betty Woodman, Denise Treizman, Johnathan Lasker, Trudy Benson, Rachel Debuque, Leslie Wayne, Jayson Musson + more.

Installation view

Untitled (Ice Cream) 2015, Spray paint, primer, joint compound on plastic bottle and ceramic cup 16" X 4.5" X 4.5"

How do you go about naming your work?

Ultimately, anything goes when I am in search for titles. They can derive from music to television shows, quotes heard from childhood or the present day. I’m not very good at choosing titles, but I do keep my work open in case a work needs a title or has to change.

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

At this point of my career I am really focused to just complete the MFA program at University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Teaching may be a possibility in my future after graduation, and exhibiting my work has been at a fast pace for the last few years. I do not intend to slow down.

I was invited to participate in the Alumni Invitational at Texas State University in November and also in a group exhibition at Nebraska Wesleyan University's Elder Gallery in March 2017. My work will also be featured in the West catalog of New American Paintings scheduled for distribution in October. 

Artist website

Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16