Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twelve Minutes with Painter Olivia Villanueva

I discovered Olivia Villanueva through one of the art eNewsletters I get on a regular basis. Not only did the work I saw speak to me, I was also impressed by her story. Shortly after finishing high school she married and raised a family. It was only later in life, when her kids were grown, that her art career blossomed and flourished. Her work has been featured extensively in shows and galleries throughout Texas. She has also been featured in numerous publications including USA Today.

The interview may be a bit long for a blog entry, but has a good payoff.

Ennyman: How did you get to where you are today and how did you take an interest in art?
Olivia Villanueva: Growing up as a child I was introduced to music and art through my mother. At the age of 3 I was already showing interest in art and music. My father Christobal Cassanova Cisneros is a self employed business man, so that is where my sales tactics come from. I have 4 brothers, 1 sister. Only 3 of us can paint, but I was different, I had to paint. My mother Margaret S. Cisneros is a classical pianist and paints, so I just started playing the piano (not the piano professionally more like just playing ) and picked up drawing and painting; it was normal to me, just like walking.

My very first exhibit was in 1983 while I was in high school. The drawing went to state and I received an award for our district. One year after high school, I got married and have two children who are now grown up. I stopped everything to be a mother to my children. I did not want anyone raising them but me.

Fourteen years later I picked up the paint brush again. During this time I was working for Saks Fifth Avenue. I was one of the key makeup artists for the stars. I would use my clients’ faces as a canvas, and bring the beauty within out, so I always had a need to create. One day the store director noticed I was showing a photo album, and I said to myself, “Well this is it, you have done it now.” This is called conflict of interest. The director comes right over to me and asks may he see my album. Of course I showed him. To my amazement he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I would like to call the New York office and get some information about having a one woman show for you.” I was speechless! New York gave the approval, I was the first woman in San Antonio to ever exhibit in Saks. This happened in 1999.

After that exhibit, several months later I took a leap of faith and decide to quit my job
and become a full-time artist. The store director was very pleased but also saddened. He knew this was the right thing to do. He told me, “Follow your dreams and never let go,” I left in good standing and a wonderful heart to follow what has been with me the day I was born.

E: Where did you go to study and who were your influences initially?
OV: I have only studied on my own. I took a class at Southwest Craft Art School in San
Antonio, TX. I wanted to know if there was something I was missing, i wanted to know what art class was about as an adult. I learned that i was born with a gift, a rare gift that
in some way, you just know what your doing, it comes from the heart and soul.

Back to Southwest Craft Art School...Long story short I was asked to teach. I did learn a few things about mediums. It was an experience and I enjoyed the class. As far as teaching, no, I did not take the offer. It was too soon for me.

My influences first came from my high school teacher, Mr.Tamez. He spent a lot of time with me in class showing me the difference from all the pencils, I had no idea there were dozens of them! I though a pencil is a pencil, but of course at a young age your mind is young and you can do anything you want that pencil to do, even fade it out, I did that with tissue, i would even wet the tip of the pencil to make it dark my teacher noticed and that’s how we started talking about all different materials. I was very much into Renaissance, the old masters. I studied every mark just by pictures, and museums.

Funny short story... in school we had an exhibit in another school. My art was the ONLY art stolen. I thought, well I must be doing something right! It’s OK, I can draw it again I said to myself. It was the schools who were really freaking out. I guess when you are young you are free.

E: In what ways has your style changed since that time?
OV: My style has changed from pencil, to charcoal, to oils, to acrylics and now mixed media. My saying is, “you name it, I paint it.” Truly, I paint figurative abstract. I paint what is in my heart. Even when I do not want to paint, I paint, because I feel there are never any mistakes. I as an artist will look at the so called mistake and take it as a challenge it to further my ability to find what no man has, and that can only come from within.

Enny: Who are your current influences?
OV: My current influence I would have to say is Juan Farias and myself. I do not mingle in the art scene, especially when I am painting. I do not want to get off my course of what I am doing or where my art is taking me. Juan and I are probably the only two artists that can handle the studio without the complications of getting lost.

E: I like the way you say that you “paint from awkwardness.” Can you elaborate on that?
OV: Painting from awkwardness is like painting from each and every angle of the painting. It’s called painting from all four sides, and sometimes throwing another painting over it to see the result of what was once a pretty cool painting. These are some of the interesting ways of painting that Juan showed me. I say to myself, ”If you cannot try something different over a painting that I feel is done, then why paint. I know I can do it again, but I will never know if I don’t try the awkwardness of it.

E: On your website I see a page in development for Juan Farias. In what way is he part of Olivia Villanueva?
OV: Aha! The question everyone asks, “Juan Farias.” When I first walked into the art gallery I was amazed at his works! I did not know of this man who is an extremely magnificent artist. I wanted to speak with him during his exhibit, but that did not happen. He was busy as all artists are during exhibits. Later down the line we both started working out of the same gallery “Casa Salazar” above The Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. He asked me several times to go to his studio. One time he told me, if you were a real artist then you would show up to a real studio. Well, I showed him I was a real artist. I showed up, and studio it was! I am talking huge! 50 foot high ceilings. I mean my studio was 10’ x 13’ at the time so you could imagine! That was one of the best days of my life. Juan took me under his wing and showed me what painting is all about, “no limits.” Texas University of San Antonio owns several of our collaborated paintings. Collaboration painting is more like a dance, a figure eight if I may say. This is how we paint on a 20 foot long painting. It then becomes an orchestra! I have learned much by Juan and I owe him dearly for his time his expertise of wisdom and knowledge. I am honored that Juan Farias and I are still partners in the arts and very close friends.

E: What is the meaning of Red in your paintings?
OV: Red, is who I am. I am passionate. This is where my red series comes in, I do all things with love and heart. My fingertips drip blood on a busy week. Red is a language that I only know and very few who find it.

To see more of Olivia Villanueva, visit

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