Oct 19, 2011

PROFILE | Jason Villegas

Jason Villegas, Ultra Bastard Survival Companion Lacoste Version, 2005. Fabric, applique. 14 x 18 x 12 in.

The complexity of Jason Villegas’s work is thoughtfully masked behind familiar brands, logos, and materials making his pieces inviting to as little interpretation as one wants. Born in Texas, Boston-based artist Jason Villegas made his career focusing relatively on the same conceptual inspiration of material consumerism. His pieces are made from readily available materials, often resale store products, which add interest and familiarity to the works. Jason Villegas took mixed materials and created multi-level conceptual pieces that are all interrelated while remaining intriguing and open for interpretation to even the most na├»ve viewer.

Villegas’s has remained consistently interested in the particular concept of capitalist material consumerism throughout his career. The idea of the life cycle of an article of clothing from production in sweatshops to the consumer of high-ticketed items to ultimately end up in thrift stores or landfills is an important theme to Villegas’s work.  In some of his very early pieces Villegas took vernacular materials to emulate lavish goods. In the catalogue included in Villegas’s first solo exhibition held at CAMH Perspectives 167: Invasive Species Redux, the author Valerie Cassel Oliver writes for Jason Villegas:

When I first began emulating luxury items, it was purely about simulation. The work had more of a pop-inspired feel, like that of an Andy Warhol silkscreen of a Campbell’s soup can.

From these early works Villegas became more directly inspired by luxury consumer clothing that were branded by an animal, like the reoccurring Lacoste logo in his work. The marketing involved and the knockoff animal branding became memetic in our culture. An entire mythology emerged from Villegas’s fixation on animal logos in which they serve as God-like figures for consumers. The mythology was incorporated within his work along with other sub-meaning inspirations, some personal to the artist and others from cultural influence, make a seemingly overly chaotic concept cohesive and beautifully thought out.

Jason Villegas, Crocodile Pile, 2010. Fabric, cardboard, foam, feathers.

The use of readily available materials, such as clothing from thrift stores, is important to Jason Villegas’s work and adds another layer of complexity. Most of his work focuses on consumerism using already used reclaimed clothing in his pieces, each with its own history in the consumer market, which is perfect for bringing his mythology to life. The use of these types of materials also makes an important gesture regarding the relationship between consumers’ economic statuses. The resold article of clothing that once represented luxury is now readily available to the lower class and within Villegas’s exhibitions these two classes are represented together; even the cultures that made the clothes are included. Villegas incorporates the history of the goods he comes across into his work, for instance a stain becomes an eyeball. The catalogue written by Valerie Cassel Oliver for Perspectives 167: Invasive Species Redux at CAMH states:

I approached each piece of clothing as one Ultrabastard Survival Companion or mutated animal machine. It is as though the shirt or sweater itself transformed into the animal mutation: sleeves became cannons, collars became wheels, buttons became gears, and so on.

In spite of the depth of complexity to Jason Villegas conceptual works there is a constant ability to find his work fascinating without knowing all the details and layers of meaning. I am really captivated by strong concepts, but sometimes concepts can seem boring to outsiders. The way Villegas uses a concept to add a sense of cohesiveness rather than to get a particular message to his viewers is admirable. His work fits in with the contemporary arts trend of not having to think or wonder why something is. Villegas’s work can easily be interpreted however each viewer wants because he uses pervasive and familiar logos, brands, and recognizable materials.

For more information about Jason Villegas please visit his website

-Melissa Weatherall


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