Marco Villegas was three years old when he left Monterrey, Mexico, and took that seemingly endless bus ride with his family to reach his hometown of Houston. A graduate of the University of Houston, for the first time since his arrival, Villegas is questioning himself.
“This is the first time I’ve thought about myself as an immigrant,” he explains, as he walks me through the latest round of work in his studio. “I have always had a fascination with waves, but now these waves have new meaning. Waves, birds, animals, humanity itself is based on migration. Ideas migrate. This is what led me to call this latest series of paintings Immigrant Waves - to underscore the importance and inevitability of immigrants and immigration to culture and humanity.”
For Villegas, the abstract does not have to be divorced from reality. “I find my paintings come from the real, and gain meaning in their abstraction,” he says. “My work is born in the moment we are in, but the shapes, the horizon lines, the borders, they have always been there. The borders in my paintings may divide, but they also overlap.”
Villegas is in the middle of re-reading Moby Dick, and he tells me about his fascination at how Melville can turn a tiny detail into the universe. “There is a focus this book has on the great human problems, problems that roil us still,” he says as he waves his hands in explanation.
Villegas’ work is now a simultaneous exploration of both the past and the present. His lifelong studies on color and form are taking on a new significance.
A clue to his work and thinking hangs on the wall:
Villegas points out another inspiration, the waves of Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai. “I am and have been influenced by his work for a long time,” Villegas adds, noting that he had not originally thought of his own exploration of waves as a political statement. “But now, it’s a part of a new reality for this nation of immigrants. Many metaphors are alive now that didn’t leap to mind until after November’s election.”
Marco Villegas is represented by Tommy Zoya Gallery. His forthcoming show is called “Immigrant Waves.”