Inside William Villalongo's Studio

Photo: Naima Keith

“When I’m making a painting I don’t want to feel like I’m writing a thesis,” said William Villalongo on a warm July afternoon in his Brooklyn studio. As curatorial interns, we were thrilled to begin our week not-so-silently shadowing Assistant Curator Naima Keith on a studio visit. Villalongo, a Cooper Union trained artist and Yale lecturer in the painting and print department, surprised us with the variety of work in his studio. Though diverse, his pieces were united by an imaginative rather than a strict, formulaic process.

Scattered on the tabletop and throughout the studio were a series of small-scale works featuring nude women in a variety of traditional and humorous poses. Each figure looked directly at the viewer with their face partially obscured by an individual mask painted in an abstract style. Surrounding the figure was a utopian environment and silhouette of lush vegetation made of black velvet. Villalongo explained his focus on the female body as an exploration of exoticism, a common subject of modern artwork.

The figures of Villalongo’s small works were similar to those featured in his large paintings hanging on the walls of his studio. The geometric canvases contained fantasy scenes of nude women in a verdant surrounding of exotic plants and animals. Though only partially finished, it was evident to us that Villango’s paintings invite the viewer to investigate questions of representation and cultural exchange.

Villalongo’s third set of work explores the relationship between modern and African art. In one witty composition, a modern painting is transformed into a mask that covers the face of a Kongo female ancestral statue. Villalongo’s galaxy background literally removes both objects from their original context raising a litany of questions about display practices of African art.

Even though we only spent a few hours with Villalongo, his process and compositions inspired us to approach our own work more imaginatively.

For more information on William Villalongo and his work, click here.

Written by Ari Holden and Hallie Ringle, Curatorial Interns, 2012