HomeAsian AmericansCarlos Villa's legacy celebrated through major art exhibits in San Francisco

Carlos Villa’s legacy celebrated through major art exhibits in San Francisco

The works of celebrated Filipino American artist, curator, and virtuoso Carlos Villa (1936-2013) are on display in two major art institutes in San Francisco: The Asian Art Museum and San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries.

As the very first Filipino American to grace a major museum retrospective, Villa’s unique perspective will give spectators a glimpse of his mixed media artwork which often conveys messages of cultural diversity. Through his work, he evokes feelings of inclusivity within the art scene. The San Francisco native’s art sought to expand awareness of multicultural issues in the arts and beyond.

The three-room exhibit Worlds in Collision at the Asian Art Museum focuses on Villa’s groundbreaking works, mostly from the 1970s, and is up through Oct. 24. According to the museum website, the exhibition focuses on Villa’s drawings, paintings, and construction in the decade when “the artist burst onto the art scene with a vibrant, multicultural aesthetic.”

The mixed media artist was born in San Francisco in 1936. According to The Los Angeles Times, his parents were Filipino immigrants from the Ilocos region who came to the Bayy Area in the 1920s. He explores his own cultural identity through his work, blending Western art influences with non-Western art influences.

Villa’s renowned large-scale productions used uncommon items such as “feathers, chicken bones, and human blood.” He also painted using his own face as a brush, and constructed talismanic figures such as wings, snakes, masks.

Villa’s other works are also on display at the San Francisco Arts Commission as part of the Roots and Reinvention exhibit. It is located in the new gallery space on the first floor of the War Memorial Opera House through Saturday, Sept. 3. The exhibit celebrates Villa’s revered legacy. According to the museum’s website, it “features work that showcases his Filipino ancestry, impact on the art world today, and his connection with non-Western cultures, traditions, and rituals.”

The pieces of art in this exhibit showcased the reinvention of Villa’s art style. In the 1980s and 1990s, Villa began to shift away from the large abstract paintings and feather-based works that he became known for, to pieces that delve into the history of Filipinos in the U.S., what it means to be a part of a diaspora, and his own family archives.  

Carlos Villa is one of the most important Filipino American artists of the 20th century. The two exhibits will give his fans and other art patrons the opportunity to experience the work of an artist with deep ties to his culture and city – someone who was a dedicated educator, community organizer, and influential thinker. Worlds in Collision and Roots and Reinvention show us that “art is boundless; art has no horizon,” and that is why Villa has been recognized as an “artist’s artist.” 

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