Writing Archive

Paintings of Mythic Proportions

RISD Views, Fall 2004 (October)

Carlos de Villasante '93 PT grew up in Mexico City, where he studied the murals of Diego Rivera and those of the ancient Central Americans. Now working in Miami, he makes life-size figurative paintings, simplifying forms into elegant painted lines and surrounding them with collaged patterns, symbols and fields of vibrant color. By depicting people at life size, de Villasante brings them into the room with us, forcing us to deal not just with their representation but with their physical being. Tracing their outlines, he infuses his works with the same veracity as fingerprints.

"I think of my work as psychological portraiture," he says. "I'm interested not only in how a person looks, but his or her presence, the vibration of life that people carry with them. I'm also interested in how those presences interact when placed near each other."

Given his desire to keep the scale life-size, de Villasante's exploration of multi-figure compositions has led to increasingly larger works. They have begun to resemble the art that first inspired him. "The first art I was exposed to was church art - stained-glass windows, large canvases of saints. It was almost always life-size. When I was a kid my folks made a point of taking me to Olmec sites like the one at Tula, where they have 40-foot narrative-covered obelisks and enormous sculpted figures that make you feel puny."

While he was at RISD, de Villasante would return to Mexico City several times a year and once ran into the late professor and provost Hardu Keck MFA '64 PT, who would take students there during Wintersession. "Every night he read to them from the Popol Vuh, which inspired me to explore narrative in my work. Hardu encouraged me to infuse my work with the language of myths."

Recently, de Villasante made a painting 40 feet long, with a dozen figures. Entitled Puente/ Bridge, he installed it spanning a skateboarding bowl in Hollywood, FL. Puente operated simultaneously as an environment, a sculptural object and a hieratic narrative in which the figures moved with royal dignity through a palatial, symbol-filled world.

"A curator once said that people come away from my work having participated in a living narrative," the artist says. "That's what I want to achieve by working life-size."

Word count: 378

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