Academy of Art University’s Spring Show: An Interview with Illustration Department’s Ernesto Villanueva

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If Fine Art is a purely aesthetic, one of a kind creation to which all other forms exist in its blue chip shadow, then where is Illustration in the hierarchy? Given its appeal to the human eye and heart, as well as a compelling narrative, Illustration beams a bright light. The Academy of Art offers a plethora of courses to bolster the skills needed to bring conceptualization to fruition. Ernesto Villanueva’s imagination and drawing skills are evident in beautiful, dreamy images that linger.

Juxtapoz: Where did you grow up and what influenced and interested you as a youngster?

Ernesto Villanueva: I grew up in Mexico City and was heavily influenced by cartoons and movies. I was one of those 90s kids watching Disney VHS tapes on repeat and my favorite cartoons were Looney Tunes, The XMen and Yu Gi Oh! I remember having a deep desire to draw as a “professional. 

Did you have a job or attend another school before AAU?

I studied Product Design at UIA (Universdidad Iberoamericana) in Leon, Guanajuato, and I worked as a product designer for six years before enrolling at AAU. Currently, I’m a tattoo artists which allows me to exercise illustration in interesting ways.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist and when did you choose to focus on Illustration?

I think I was pretty young, like 7 or 8, when I realized, no matter what, that I wanted to draw for a living. I don’t know if I have settled on a particular genre yet, but I’m interested in translating stories into oneiric (pertaining to dreams) images.

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Have you pivoted from another type of art?

I got into product design thinking that would be a good mix of art and a conventional “steady” job, eventually convincing myself that being a designer was my path.But at the end of the day, I had to reconcile that my artistic self was bigger, louder and would give me more joy in life than I had originally thought.

Do you have a favorite artist or influence?

Yes, so many? I am quite sensitive to other forms of art. In illustration, there are a lot of Golden Age artists, and my top would be N.C Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and J.C. Leyendecker. Then there’s William Alsburg, Olga and Andrej Dugin and many others that I have discovered on Social media like Trans Nguyen, AwAnqui and Kristin Kwan. My art is very influenced by music and my main muses are Florence & the Machine, Aurora and Lorde. Also, I absolutely love movies by Wes Anderson, Yorgos Lanthimos, Robert Eggers and Ari Aster.

Why did you choose the Academy of Art?

In Mexico there aren’t schools that teach illustration entirely. It’s more common to find a Design or Arts degree that may include illustration in their program, but I wanted to specialize entirely in this. So after some research on what are considered top illustration schools, I found AAU. I chose it because it seemed like a good fit and allowed me to take it completely online.

A favorite class or teacher?

I’ve had so many. My first class was Perspective with Stephen Player, which I loved. It was challenging and I enjoyed putting my technical abilities in action. Stephen always knew how to inspire us to do our best. Then in Digital Painting with Robert Revels, I learned how to maximize my paper drawings digitally and it’s helped me a lot. Robert is one of the best teachers because he is very open and genuinely cares for his class. And I just took a class with William Maughan, who is head of the Illustration department. It’s a gold mine of experience and knowledge, so I tried to ask as much as I could in order to learn from him.

What was your best experience from being in the Spring Show?

Being recognized by your peers for what you do feels good. It is very flattering and it helped me to feel more confident in my art. Probably the best experience is being reached out by Juxtapoz Mag!

What are your artistic goals and how do you see that as part of your life?

In this early stage I want to bew a full time illustrator working in publishing and editorial projects and I also want to develop a visual language that could turn into a brand itself, collaborating with brands in different fields. I can’t see myself not working in something artistic, so I will keep drawing!

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