The art of cannibalization: Abstract Fiction at UWM Union Art Gallery
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Eddie Villanueva was born and raised in Milwaukee. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and received his BFA in printmaking, drawing, and painting in 2005. For a time, Milwaukeeans could walk into coffee shops, galleries, and co-ops around the city and not be surprised to see Villanueva’s work displayed on the makeshift gallery walls of a fashion co-op, painted on wall spaces behind shop counters, or framed and hung on restaurant walls. He had a drive to create, and his work was ubiquitous. Then it stopped.
Villanueva disappeared because he was accepted into the MFA program at Madison, and quietly began evolving his art in the confines of academia. He was still showing his work, but had made the necessary jump for an artist on the rise. No longer could one stumble upon Villanueva’s work while waiting for a take-out order; it was now in museums and galleries. The art itself had taken on a more serious tone as well. Villanueva discarded his paintings with floral patterns, script motifs, and dreamy animals, and began exploring structure and perspective through large-scale installation influenced by his muralist background.
A major characteristic of his current work is that most of the elements he utilizes are recycled from past pieces. His ability to create, dismantle, and reuse has resulted in a pool of elements patiently waiting to be reassembled into a new installation. “I started thinking of my work less as separate pieces and more like pieces of a larger puzzle,” explains Villanueva.
For the last week at UWM’s Union Art Gallery, Villanueva has been creating a cohesive composition to fill a 30-foot wall. He had come prepared with a plan, but like all plans, it changed when initiated. In preparation, he had the bulk of his studio moved to the gallery. Photographs from his blog contain captions like: “Looks like a mess but I swear it makes sense—Studio image before the installation of Abstract Fiction, 2012.”
Overall, it is this sense of the ephemeral that makes Villanueva’s work so captivating. With each install, the work is envisioned and then dismantled. “The subjects used to make the work are my past paintings and installations, so it seems appropriate that many of the materials used to create them are recycled from past pieces that were no longer relevant to me,” says Villanueva. “I’ve found that cannibalizing my work to make new work is not only a cathartic act of letting go of the preciousness of art, but also a poignant conceptual act.”
Andrea Avery, curator of the Union Art Gallery, invited Villanueva to participate in Abstract Fiction alongside Deedee Cheriel, Lisa Congdon, and Liz Miller, three well-established, professional artists. “Although we often show nationally known artists, I think it’s important to show who’s making really intriguing work right here, in our own backyard,” says Avery.
Avery envisioned Abstract Fiction to be an exhibition of complementary artists whose bright colors and sharp angles transform familiar imagery into magical and imaginative spaces. “Each of [the artists] experiment with the physical properties of their chosen media, and re-contextualize simplified shapes, signs, and symbols from different historical and contemporary imagery to create new imaginative environments. It felt very natural to show them together.”
Abstract Fiction opens Friday, Jan. 27 at 5:00 p.m. in the UWM Union Art Gallery, and runs through Feb. 24.