One night, just a few years ago, August Vilella dropped a gob of paint onto a canvas and began pushing it around with his brush, watching as various characters began to emerge. Previously he had had no artistic training. He had studied philosophy and was composing and performing music with his punk rock band, working on an epic (unfinished) philosophical novel which stretches more than 1,000 pages. This was the beginning of Vilella’s painting process, as he comes to the canvas with no preconceived concepts or drawings, and simply begins creating. His works resound with viewers as he is often among the most popular artists at fairs, sells widely and is now one of the hottest artists out of Spain, having won prestigious awards at international art fairs.
By just starting with paint on a canvas and going with the flow, he is removing his overt, conscious will from the painting process. He is not what I like to call a “symbol hunter”, looking for different images which, in conjunction with each other, create a visual allegory. This symbol hunting was mocked and impugned anyway through the work of folks like Rauschenberg and Rauch. Vilella dives into a bowl of Jungian primordial soup meeting the chance operations of Duchamp and Cage. Chance operations was always about setting our flawed wills and desires aside and opening ourselves to new possibilities which we, ourselves, would never have been able to create. A religious person would say we are opening ourselves to Providence, others might say we are opening ourselves to our own deep, subconscious minds. This is what Vilella also believes.
Vilella, through his process, opens himself to discover what he may be truly experiencing, what he may be in denial about, what is really lurking down there. Interestingly, his work is figurative. You would think he would be throwing gobs of paint at a canvas while screaming or dripping stuff while completely inebriated to get to his deep-seated stuff. No, we do not look at the brushstrokes or drip patterns to determine what his inner state of being might be. The inner state he reflects is in the form of figures against backgrounds using a fine, varnished painting technique that hearkens back to Velazquez and El Greco.
The backgrounds are now developed through the traditional technique of “veladuras” in which the artist uses many fine layers of paint to achieve what Jose Ignacio Ruiz Caparros (President of the Spanish National Art Association) described to me as “…magic gradings that create an incredibly dark atmosphere.” The figures which appear on the canvas as manifestations of Vilella’s will-less process are often dominated by huge eyes but ethereal or disintegrating bodies. Indeed, wide-open eyes can mean lots of things – wonder, curiosity, intense fear, shock… the ambiguity of open eyes allows us to, basically, impute our emotions to the figures. The eyes engage us to try to understand how imaginary figures might be feeling through our own introspection and by our identification with otherworldly characters.
Yet, when we think of which creatures evolution accorded big eyes to, we can think of owls or birds, in general, or insects; yet Vilella’s eyes do not seem to be compound eyes, they are more like owl eyes. Are these predatory, nocturnal figures where evolution diminished other body parts to strengthen the capacity to perceive and hunt? No, these figures do not have the accompanying claws which come with big eyes. Well, it could be these are creatures with the capacity to identify but not to hunt. It seems to me that these are often passive creatures who see but do not always take action. They are born hunters lacking the tools to hunt. Indeed, their eyes are bigger than their stomachs in that their bodies are often smoke-like or cracking while the eyes are substantial and real. I think what makes these works appeal to so many people is the vulnerability or helplessness of the figures with big eyes but no claws and disintegrating bodies. Perhaps we all feel like this much of the time.
These are creatures blessed with huge eyes who seem to realize that eyes are not enough. They may be praying for an inner process, or an outer divine or political process, which can hunt for them based on what they see. They seem to realize that one must surrender to something higher and look inward. Indeed, the eyes in these paintings are like giant planets waiting to engage in a supernova implosion, where one’s entire orientation, given to one through nature, is found faulty, and one begins the long and arduous search inward. Vilella’s will-less process reveals the need for us to become will-less in our own quests to develop further.