Photo by James BunoanIgnacio W. Villanueva is a little cagey about his background. "Weiner," he says, when you ask about the W. He won't name the college he attended, and he remembers his teenage years with measured if cheerful disdain. "You know, art class in high school," he says. "The teachers are like, 'Oh, shit, you can actually do something?'"
But then you get him talking about skateboarding—Christian Hosoi's imminent release from prison, parks he has visited recently, scary things he has seen Duane Peters do in backyard pools—and from there, you get him talking about his new project, "Still Movement," a series of nine paintings on blank skateboard decks. And then you get him talking about art in general, and then he just rolls happily along.
He used to snatch stacks of copy-machine paper from his dad's office when he was a kid, he says, and he'd doodle so habitually and intensively he eventually inspired an automatic bad-grade rule if there was anything on his school papers that didn't come out of a computer printer. Even now, he carries a sketchbook with him everywhere—the couch at home, the skateboard tours he used to manage, even swerving through traffic on the 405.
"Even if I'm driving, I always carry my sketchbook," he says, miming balancing a notepad across a steering wheel. "I've got writing where one word takes up a whole page because I'm trying to drive at the same time. I'll probably kill someone someday—wait, maybe you shouldn't put that in."
He teased the bulk of the ideas for "Still Movement" out of these sketchbooks, after a couple of experimental paint swipes on blank skateboard decks got him thinking (and got him a slot as the inaugural show at hip Costa Mesa design firm-cum-gallery Corner USA). He likes such skateboard-art names as Neil Blender (whom he mentions reverently at least twice), local Black Label artist Russ Pope, and genre godfather Raymond Pettibon ("I love his attitude as much as his artwork," he says), whose spare pen-and-ink style is an obvious influence on Villanueva. But he found the real spark for "Movement" in the picture poems of Beat poet Kenneth Patchen, whose careful juxtaposition of iconic illustration with a telling line or two of text established something of a blueprint for "Movement."
Villanueva's pieces in "Movement" are all understated simplicity, reduced to an elegant minimalist balance between subject—a (tastefully) naked girl, a skateboarder, a ship, an ornate Posada-style skull—and setting, a swirl of muted abstracts and serendipitous paint streaks.
And the skateboard thing? It just seemed natural, he says.
"Skating is just another outlet, and it's the same with art," he says. "It's one of those individual things. When you're on your board, no one else is on there with you; when you're holding a pen, no one else is holding it with you."
He's not just a "skateboard artist," he says. He's a designer by trade, with a light, clean style that won him work from such local companies as Split and S&M Bikes, as well as the odd custom job for a Japanese surfer or something. But, yeah, there's plenty of overlap: OC is a "mecca for skateboarding companies," he says, and, after some prompting, he even admits that "creative people are drawn to skateboarding." He has another show up at Westminster's Charles Todaro gallery, where they show old skate films on the big screen to wide-eyed little kids who understand that there's more to life than watching a DVD in your bedroom. So far, he says, the graphic artists like the skateboards. And the skaters? Well, the skaters really like his art, he says.
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"I want people to get something from this," he says. "I mean, I get a feeling from it—like this can move people, this can do something. And I hope people take it seriously—it's not just dumb pictures on a skateboard."
And how seriously do people take it, we ask?
"Well," says Villanueva, "at the reception, my friend came out of the bathroom and was like, 'I love what you're doing with the naked women! Keep it up, bro!'"
"Still Movement" at Corner USA, 1310 Logan, Ste. H, Costa Mesa, (714) 434-0664; www.cornerusa.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through May 15. Free; Villanueva also shows at Charles Todaro Gallery, 7841 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 890-5111. Call for hours. Runs indefinitely. $5; visit Villanueva's website, www.artmartyr.com/ignacio/.