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The Neo-Figurativist Portraiture of Emilio Villalba

California-based artist Emilio Villalba aligns himself within the revival of neo-expressive and neo-figurative painting as a proponent of figurative gestural abstraction. Villalba creates portraits in oil paint that explore the human condition, utilizing expressionistic forms juxtaposed by hyperreal figurative subject matter, to create evocative and arresting imagery. It is often said that contemporary painting has entered a ‘post-conceptual’ phase, in that, there are intentional references to numerous stylistic features embedded in the work itself; Villalba’s work is symptomatic of this contemporary tendency.

Inspired by the precision of masterworks from the past, at first glance, much of his work resembles Renaissance portraiture. It’s only when you look closer that you see how he’s re-appropriated the conventional format of the genre: his human faces are distorted and fractured, their facial features obscured or magnified. Villalba’s paintings are punctuated by distorted features. Often frenetically situated hyperrealistic eyes, or lips scatter across his canvas’ which are each rendered in pastel palettes. In an artist statement on his website, Villalba explains the ethos of his artistic expression. “In the most basic sense, I paint portraits. Contemporary representations inspired by masterworks of the past. With these pieces, I wanted to explore a kind of omnipresent pressure I think we all live under. One that grows out of the clash between humanity —our unique mess of emotions, obsessions and urges—and society’s prescription for success.”

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