EK Interview: Rom Villaseran

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom
The work of Rom Villaseran is massive.  His vision is dreamlike and entrancing.  I want to be there and watch the scene unfold, I’m a pilgrim.  Check out his interview:

What was it like growing up in the Philippines?

In 1975, I was born into a middle class family that lived in Manila. My father was in advertising while my mother was in insurance. In 1986 my mother brought me to EDSA to witness the People Power revolution. I was 11 and I saw what people were willing to give to gain the freedom to speak or express yourself without the fear of being jailed, tortured or killed. It left a lasting impact on me.

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom

When you were a kid what were you like?

Making friends and playing with other kids was never difficult. But nothing beat being alone playing by myself. It was always a lot more fun.

I went to a Jesuit school for 12 years. School generally left me uninterested, with the exceptions of Math and Science. In fact, I struggled throughout my entire academic life.

As early as six, I knew that I wanted to draw the world I had in my head for the rest of my life. I did not know how that would be possible, but I knew that that’s what I wanted. Whenever I wasn’t drawing, I would be on my BMX doing street and flatland tricks around the neighborhood. This lasted for about 12 years. Unfortunately, by the time I was 18, I had broken both my wrists with a few torn ligaments and was instructed by my doctors that if I wanted to keep drawing, I would have to find another sport. So I stopped riding my bike and spent more time drawing.

What are your favorite stories/books/myths?

As a kid, I started with Dragonlance, then moved on to some of Tolkien’s work. Eventually, I got into some of Neil Gaiman’s work like The Sandman and Stardust. I also enjoyed The Luck In The Head by M. John Harrison.

As an adult, nothing beats the story of how our universe and everything in it came to be. The fact that it’s real and that you and I play a tiny role in it, makes it even more magical and amazing.

Where do you find inspiration for the worlds that you create?

I take it from what I experience or learn. Then, I create something about it, based on how I feel. My body of work is a diary of my life. I am constantly changing and growing as a human being, which means that my manner of expressing my world will pretty much do the same.

How long did “Dating Katabi” take to paint?  Where were you personally when you painted it?

From conception to completion, it took around 3-4 weeks. I had just come out of a 5 year relationship and was leaving a group that was supposed to manage my next show. With nothing in my bank account and a large studio utility bill on its way, it was time to let go and carry on by myself. A painful yet necessary experience.

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom

What’s going on in “Piyesta sa Kanal”?  What is the meaning behind your use of red within the piece?

This is a painting of my niece exploring a parade. It talks about how we have placed certain characters on high thrones and built extravagant monuments to celebrate them. We have created laws that protect these fictitious characters as it enslaves everyone. Our ability to think rationally and scientifically is taken away from us, replaced with mysticism and empty promises of afterlife. Those who open their eyes and look at the stars for scientific answers are tied down and paraded through the streets. They are labeled as insane trouble makers. We burn them. This has and continues to hamper the well-being of millions of lives in our planet. This is the society we are handing down to the next generation.

I use red for many different purposes. In this case, only two: power and attention.

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom

Where is “Awit sa Ambon”?  Tell us the story behind it.  Who’s faces are those?

This piece is a metaphor about my relationship with my work. It was just something that I thought would be fun to talk about back in the day. The bird sings for rain to fall and water the tree that provides shelter for it. It was about co-existing. I give myself to my pieces and it in return, they provide a roof over my head and food on my table. The faces help humanize the characters.

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom

How did you settle on acrylic, and sometimes charcoal, as your media of choice?  How do they resonate with your personally?

I actually experiment with a number of different mediums. Acrylic isn’t better compared to oil. For me, its just another tool an artist can use to express an idea or emotion. The same goes for for charcoal, watercolor pencils, and ballpoint pens. I just like how one can make acrylic look like oil or watercolor depending on how much water or acrylic additive you add to the pigment. I could be working with oil in the future, but for now, I’m having too much fun with acrylic.

Where do you work?  How does your space help your art?  How does it help you get into the right head space?

I work in my home studio together with my wife and our two cats. There’s a lot of privacy, which really helps. In isolation, my thoughts become clearer and louder. Drawing or painting is easy. It’s understanding your own thoughts and making something out of it that takes time.

What do you do to manipulate yourself emotionally to parallel the emotion that you want a piece to have?

I listen to MUSIC. Nothing comes close to how much music affects me. I have different track lists that cater to my many moods. (I would have said pot and a big bottle of Tanduay rhum, but I’m not in college anymore.)

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom

Name three influences.  How does their influence manifest in your art?

Ian Miller, Dave McKean, and Kent Williams. When I was much younger, I wanted nothing more than to draw, paint, and think the way these great men did.

How does their influence manifest in my art today? It doesn’t. Not in any way I can think of. Looking up to these guys helped give me direction, but it in my attempt and subsequent failure to become like them, I found myself.

What are you working on now?

Since January of 2011, I’ve been commissioned to design a whole number of things for an existing 4-storey structure. I worked on designing doors, windows, dinning sets, beds, a library, etc. At the same time I have been working on 5 large pieces that will be hung around different areas of this same house. The house will be done by March, and the 5th and final painting will be completed by April, which allows me to start working on new pieces for myself. I don’t really pick up these kinds of commissions. I just thought it might be fun to work on for a change, and it was. As rewarding as this project has been, I have to admit that painting or drawing my own world is far more satisfying and is still my favorite thing.

Would you rather be able to teleport or turn invisible?

The creep in me wants to turn invisible, but my laziness to do groceries demands teleportation.

art blog - Rom Villaseran - Empty Kingdom