You know that feeling when you’re dreaming about someone you know, only to find that they have quietly morphed into a subtly distorted version of themselves, a strange and slightly disturbing hybrid of reality and the weird underbelly of your imagination? Or the feeling you get when you’ve stayed up very late burning the midnight oil or tequila, and your eyes lose focus and start to play tricks on you?
That is the feeling (half dreaming, half disturbing) you get when you experience San Francisco-based painter Emilio Villalba’s depictions of human faces. His gorgeously distorted work is dreamy and unfocused, at once familiar and unsettling in a way that makes the hairs on the back of your arms stand up.
It is reminiscent of a childhood memory coming back to you, flooding back in jagged pieces of sight and smell and sound, that move themselves around in your subconscious until they fit in a way that makes sense. His portraits use broad strokes and glossy, lush colors on black backdrops, which heightens the distortion and feverish feelings that emanate from the paintings.
There is an expressive movement in his brushstrokes, a palpable roughness that is instinctive and raw, that sinks its teeth into your subconscious and feels unlike anything else we have seen. There are subtle yet unmistakable hints of darkness, of bloated violence or distorted danger, yet the subject matter is normal, unremarkable, like looking at a familiar face through a window streaked with rain.
His work is deconstructed and unrefined, moments of dreamy softness and crisp poignancy woven together seamlessly, and the combination lulls and provokes, leaving us feeling both soothed and disturbed, but undeniably inspired. Simple and surreal, familiar and haunting, these powerful paintings exist in the strange murky state between dream and nightmare, teetering back and forth between fantasy and reality.
In his own words: “My portraits are inspired by master works, as well as the contemporary human condition. They explore the dissonance created when the familiar is fractured and distorted by outside influence.”