Tino Villanueva’s Abstract Expressionism

By: Chuy Ramirez
Post Date: 6/25/21

Abstract expressionism as an art form surfaced in New York City after World War II. Tino Villanueva calls it “an art form that is both improvisational and playful, whimsical and subjective, presented in any visually creative mode to include geometric figurations and designs.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the art form thusly:

“Abstract Expressionism is not an accurate description of the body of work created by these artists. Indeed, the movement comprised many different painterly styles varying in both technique and quality of expression. Despite this variety, Abstract Expressionist paintings share several broad characteristics. They often use degrees of abstraction; i.e., they depict forms unrealistically or, at the extreme end, forms not drawn from the visible world (nonobjective). They emphasize free, spontaneous, and personal emotional expression, and they exercise considerable freedom of technique and execution to attain this goal, with a particular emphasis laid on the exploitation of the variable physical character of paint to evoke expressive qualities (e.g., sensuousness, dynamism, violence, mystery, lyricism). They show similar emphasis on the unstudied and intuitive application of that paint in a form of psychic improvisation akin to the automatism of the Surrealists, with a similar intent of expressing the force of the creative unconscious in art. They display the abandonment of conventionally structured composition built up out of discrete and segregable elements and their replacement with a single unified, undifferentiated field, network, or other image that exists in unstructured space. And finally, the paintings fill large canvases to give these aforementioned visual effects both monumentality and engrossing power.

The early Abstract Expressionists had two notable forerunners: Arshile Gorky, who painted suggestive biomorphic shapes using a free, delicately linear, and liquid paint application; and Hans Hofmann, who used dynamic and strongly textured brushwork in abstract but conventionally composed works. Another important influence on nascent Abstract Expressionism was the arrival on American shores in the late 1930s and early ’40s of a host of Surrealists and other important European avant-garde artists who were fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe. Such artists greatly stimulated the native New York City painters and gave them a more intimate view of the vanguard of European painting. The Abstract Expressionist movement itself is generally regarded as having begun with the paintings done by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the late 1940s and early ’50s

Known mostly as a poet, Tino Villanueva began painting in 1973 after viewing an exhibit of William Blake’s watercolors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Blake illustrated his own books. Even though at the time Villanueva had only published one volume of poetry, Hay otra voz poems [1968 -1971] (Madrid–Nueva York: Editorial Mensaje, 1972), he took up the medium with the naïve notion that “if Blake can do it, so can I.”

Villanueva tells us the rest of the story:

When there came the disconcerting realization I couldn’t render to my satisfaction—my first attempts were spectacular daubs—I commenced doing abstract expressionist pieces utilizing standard brushes as well as sponges. Inspired more by my own imagination than by outside influences, I went on to acrylics and oils, later to pen, pencil, crayon and pastels which likewise produced acceptable creations into the late 1970s.

In the1980s, I returned to watercolors, most times creating them on top of crayon-layered figurations and geometric designs of my own invention. The range of effect, and the unpredictability of the two media rejecting each other—not unlike oil against water—promptly led me into exciting experimentation and results. It fascinated me that I could play one medium against the other, and at once discovered that, over these markings I could control the hues of the watercolors with absorbent kitchen paper towels. In the late 80s I ventured into pastels with Cubist effects. My only collage is from 1994.

I know what I want my work to project and, when a drawing does not measure up to my standards, I promptly discard it. To this day I’ve had no formal training in art; nonetheless, Klee, Miró, and Kandinsky have given me much to ponder about and learn from. If any of my works can engage a viewer’s attention for more than twenty to thirty seconds, it pleases me immensely. Tino Villanueva, June 21, 2021.

Title: Page from the Architect's Journal

Artist: Tino Villanueva
1989, Watercolor, Crayon and Pencil,
18 5/8  x  11 1/4

Title: Snarled in Space

Artist: Tino Villanueva
1988, Watercolor, Crayon and Pencil,
9  x  11 3/4

Title: Menú con M

Artist: Tino Villanueva 2014, Watercolor, Crayon, Ballpoint Pen and Pencil, 5 5/16  x  3 13/16

Title: Theory of the Intersection

Artist: Tino Villanueva
1988, Watercolor, Crayon and Pencil,
13 3/4  x  6 1/2” ovoids  
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