Argentinean painter Camilo Villanueva interviewed by Natalie Dekel.
Natalie Dekel: Can you please share with us events that have influenced your decision to become a painter and your artwork?
Camilo Villanueva: One day my acquaintance who was a music teacher and a very spiritual person asked me if I still kept my paintings from my school days. I have managed to find some that survived during the years and have given them over to him. A few days later, he came back, telling me that he was greatly impressed by them and suggested I start painting again. When I asked why, he said my work showed something mysterious that spoke of faith through the paint.
At that time I was 35 years old and worked in for the European car company Fiat. I found his words very odd and at first I gave it no notice. Only some time later I was touched by his words and the confidence with which he spoke about my paintings. I decided to try it. I took a pencil and paper and started drawing again…
With time and practice it was as if a ‘valve’ had suddenly opened up inside me. It felt like my art was flooding through me like a jet of pressurized water. This flood of creative flow has changed my life totally. I have left my day job and looked for freelance work as a painter. These were difficult times to work as a painter, so to inspire myself I begun visiting art galleries.
I have consulted and learned from other people who were linked to the spiritual world. All of those I have met have encouraged my art work and believed that my efforts to paint will come to fruition and appreciation. I was showing my works to anyone I could, and people would say they find my paintings compelling. That gave me a lot of courage. It was a proactive approach – going out there to the world, and introducing my paintings to people.
At some point I was lucky to meet a television producer who had a program where professionals spoke of their holistic and far-sighted approaches in life. It was on that show that I was finally convinced that my paintings were something unusual. While explaining the reasons for my paintings at that show I noted how people around me were attentive. I was happy and relieved to see how my paintings can bring a real contribution to people around me.
I then looked for galleries that are commercially oriented. I had no agent or art dealer to help me exhibit or promote my work, so it seemed to me that the gallery’s curators found my arguments ‘unconvincing’. I also encountered many negative attitudes, almost prejudices I think, towards paintings that are based on spiritual experiences. This attitude still puzzles me today. I am sure that the tradition and the critique of fine art, talk a lot about are being influences from the spiritual, and so I would think people will take this for granted almost. But this is not so.
Do you paint mainly to express yourself and your inner world or is your artwork has more a nature of a social statement?
My paintings speak on a universal language that touches the emotional and spiritual core of people. I am trying to talk to people with the painterly language of a natural and spiritual rhythm that is embodied in all things in life, and around us. I feel that once we artists recognize the skill that was bestowed on us, as artists, by God, we then need to continue and explore this skill, this gift, and share it with others. This is why I share my works with anyone, simply everyone I can.
The images that I paint come from my inner world, my experience of reality and my connection to the spiritual aspect of my environment. I feel the need to communicate and share what I have inside me. It is an urge. I think it is one of the basic rules of the universe – to give and receive in equal amounts. Hence I feel an urge to share what I have. Perhaps that view and understanding will eventually trigger a change on a social level with people.
Has your childhood affected your painting?
When I was young I lived a very isolated life, of a lonely child. I spent most of my time thinking about life and its meaning. I grew up as a more introverted person who focuses on the inner experiences and the imagery than that of the surrounding reality. I was looking for a way of living that is beyond the limitations of social distinctions.
My paintings are part of my quest for truth and Being that is beyond human influences. I have read a lot about various religions and feel that to some extent all beliefs argue for the same core truth underlying the living experience. As I was growing up I was particularly influenced by authors such as A. Bailey, Annie Besant, Blavatsky H., Francis, R. Steiner, CG Jung, J . Krishnamurti, Lao-tse, Vivakanand, A. Kardec, Manly Hall, Leadbeater, J. Boehme, F. Bacon, A.David-Neel, M. Mathers and others.
In my youth it was very difficult or almost impossible to discuss these issues with people of my own age or older. I felt rather alone in my search beyond the physical and social boundaries to the truth underlying the living. So I chose to explore my search through the paintings.
I am aware that the spiritual part of my being is large and influential force in my life. This gives me an impetus to continue to express it.
Can you please describe your approach when you come to paint? How do the images come to you?
I think my paintings come from within, from inside me and they correspond to an energy that shows me the core being of things and how everything is connected to everything else. I explore these connections through colour and form, and explore a structure containing the whole and the parts of it.
I am interested in the way that the parts seem to contain the whole, a little bit like exploring how a micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos appear in all things. To me, a painting tries to express a spiritual opening through which we can enter the inner world of all things. It is quite difficult to explain in words, but for those who have the ability to read through colours and shapes, the message is clear. Like reading between the lines, each painting contains a message between the colours and shape, a message to be decrypted. A message which also evolves from one painting to the other, since each painting has a relationship with the former.
There seems to be a continuous presence of deep blue in many of your paintings, does that signify something, or is it a matter of painterly technique?
Blue is a symbolic motive in all my paintings. The colours in my paintings are all linked to symbolism and they hold underlying meanings. They are not mere ‘unconscious’ expression. Rather they hold messages beyond the unconscious. I believe that when we use symbolic meanings that lie behind colours, we then enter other worlds. The connection between colours and shapes evolves in relation to the alignment that develops the meanings further. People can interpret it is as if the colour is a translator of what I’m feeling in terms of energy.
1 December 2010.
Interview conducted via email correspondence, Sep-Nov 2010. Camilo Villanueva is based in Argentina. Natalie Dekel is based in the UK. Text © Camilo Villanueva and Natalie Dekel. Images © Camilo Villanueva.