Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision

San Francisco-born Carlos Villa (1936–2013) was a groundbreaking American artist whose work broadened the horizons of 20th-century modernism. His search for personal and aesthetic meaning in his own Filipino heritage and global indigenous cultures led him to develop an original and expansive approach to art and the role of the artist.

Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision invites you into Villa’s spectacular, visually magical worlds of feathers and photographs, capes and masks, bones and tattoos. The first major museum retrospective dedicated to the work of a Filipino American artist, it celebrates Villa’s exuberant work and enduring influence as a teacher, curator, and activist.

The exhibition focuses on Villa’s drawings, mixed-media paintings, and constructions from the 1970s, the decade when the artist burst onto the art scene with a vibrant, multicultural aesthetic. In this period, he experimented with combining the techniques of Western painting with materials and forms of non-Western art, connecting with global tribal and ethnographic traditions to explore his own identity. This rich mix of influences became the hallmark of his creative output.

Worlds in Collision also includes artworks that show Villa exploring his cultural identity through his own body. For example, Villa painted Maori-inspired tattoos on an image of his own face in Tat2 (1971), which represents his growing desire to show his identification with indigenous peoples throughout the Pacific and the Americas.

Villa’s turn to his ethnic roots as a way to inform his art, his positioning of himself and his work within a larger cross-cultural lineage and community, and his commitment to grassroots activism now seem prescient. He self-consciously created a foundation for succeeding generations of Asian American and other diasporic artists to build upon, “so that [they] won’t have to ‘recuperate’ or ‘reinvent’ themselves in the same way that I and other artists who preceded them have had to do.” Presentations in Lee Gallery and the Shriram Experiential Learning Center showcase the work of select Filipino American artists that Villa mentored during his 40 years as a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, including Michael Arcega in collaboration with Paolo Asuncion; Lian Ladia in collaboration with Sherwin Rio; Paul Pfeiffer; and the trio of Eliza O. Barrios, Reanne Estrada, and Jenifer K Wofford, as artist collective, the Mail Order Brides/M.O.B.

Villa has justly been called the most important Filipino American artist of the 20th century and has long been known as an “artist’s artist.” Worlds in Collision shows us that he also deserves to be recognized as one of the most important artists of his generation.