November 11 – December 31, 2017
Robert Villamagna/ Smokestack Dada
A smokestack is a large chimney or conduit for discharging smoke from a factory, ship, or locomotive. I have lived among these smokestacks most of my life, and I have watched as they push the waste gases into the environment. The dispersion of these pollutants have had their impact on us and our surroundings. Most of the mills and factories that lined the Ohio River are gone now, and in many cases a standing smokestack becomes a highly visible, perhaps somewhat romantic, monument to those industries and their workers.
I grew up in the Ohio River rustbelt. From the time I was a preschooler I have had a mark-making tool in my hand. However, the rustbelt, in general, is not a supportive environment for one who wishes to make art his life’s work. Growing up, almost every adult male in our neighborhood was a steel worker, or worked in a steel-related industry. I ended up working in a steel mill myself for thirteen years.
The themes or narratives found in my work come from my own life experiences, as well as stories that the found objects and materials themselves may suggest. Some of these visual narratives are true, some exaggerated, some silly, and others may be total fantasy. Various symbols may show up in my work, such as the smokestacks that I referred to earlier. Most of my works are my response to the world around me, which may include the environment, the political climate, tolerance, or our treatment of our fellow man. These “response works” are an outlet for me, and prevent me from throwing bricks at the television screen.
I create assemblages and metal collages, primarily using found objects and re-purposed lithographed metal. This printed metal, or “tin”, comes from deconstructed product containers and old signage. I am very passionate about working with these materials, especially those items that show use, wear and rust. I love stuff with character. I often find myself wondering about the person who made these materials, who used them, who held them. I like to think that a part or energy of that person is still contained in these things, and now it’s transferred into the artwork. I’m giving that discarded piece of metal, or that old object, a new life, a different life. I am thrilled that I can use this stuff and that it becomes a part of my creative process. These various materials are every bit as much of my palette as is a tray of oils are for a painter. For me, walking through a flea market is like walking through a well-stocked art materials store. The flea market is my palette.
Artist Robert Villamagna works in repurposed lithographed metal, assemblage, and mixed-media. Villamagna’s work has been exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum, the Mattress Factory, Senator John Heinz History Center, ARC Gallery (Chicago), Penn State’s Robeson Gallery, Pittsburgh Center of the Arts, Society of Arts & Crafts (Boston), Erie Museum of Art, the Ohio Craft Museum, Huntington Museum of Art, The Clay Center, and the West Virginia Culture Center. Five of Villamagna’s works are in the State of West Virginia Permanent Collection. In 2016 Villamagna was named West Virginia Artist of the Year. Villamagna is an Assistant Professor of art at West Liberty University, and director of the University’s Nutting Gallery