a fly pinay by the name of aileen interviewed me the other day for a piece on http://www.12ftdwende.com, and it was definitely a pleasure choppin’ it up wit her 🙂
aside from the surprise bursts of distractions due to weezy f. bunny’s antics, the interview went smoothly and was really fun. ch-ch-check it out!
original article complete w. photos here: http://12ftdwende.com/family/?p=748
Through her lens: Elaine Villasper
Thu, 21st May 2009
A couple weeks ago I attended a show called, “Diwang Pinay,” which stands for “Spirit of the Filipina.” It’s an annual show and silent auction event hosted by a women’s organization, Babae, an org in San Francisco dedicated to the “rights and welfare of Filipinas in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The show was basically a huge art collective showcasing Filipina artists, writers, musicians, and dancers from all over the Bay. It serves as a platform for Filipinas to express their culture and their lifestyles through various aspects of art expression. Everything from live musical performances to spoken word to cultural dances and live art was performed. At the show, I specifically fell in love with this one art piece that was being auctioned off at this event. So after the show I hunted down the artist and her paintings through a friend and magically got this interview.
Her name is Elaine Villasper, a community organizer, program coordinator, activist, member of Gabriela and Babae by day and artist by night. It was truly a pleasure to interview such an empowering, inspiring, and humble individual.
Aileen: Alright Elaine! Gotta ask you this: how long have you been painting?
Elaine: Not long. I took a beginner’s painting class last semester. The past one in the Fall. That was my first time painting. That was like what? September? That’s the firs time I’ve painted. Art wise before I did a little bit of photoshop, illustrator, and I’d draw or like something like that. I’ve drawn a bit before but that was my first time really painting.
Aileen: Shoot, ffffooorreeaaalll? Never really an art classes? When I saw your pieces at Diwang, I thought you were painting for awhile.
Elaine: I’ve only taken one art class ever. The painting class. I took it at Skyline. I actually graduated at SF State in Psychology and Asian-American Studies. But my dad was an artist growing up. And I’ve always been interested in Art. I thought for awhile I was gonna be a cartoonist. But my mom said “no, haha. So I pursued something else in college. After college now I can do something for myself for fun. Then I decided to take a painting class. It was a night class that met once a week. I even failed the class because I didn’t go all the time. It was actually really fun though. I used it more as a reason to paint, ya know. I don’t think I was in class enough to learn something though because of work. But it’s good cause at least when I got to class I could paint for 3 hours in one sitting. So that was fun.
Aileen: Dang, that’s cool. But what got you into painting? Were you just curious to mess with a new art form?
Elaine: I have a couple of friends who are painters. I always thought that looks so much fun. I always admire folks who can paint. I saw pieces where I’d be like “Hey! I could do that!” But I’ve always been afraid of painting. I’m used to drawing or doodling. I guess the main real reason why I decided to pursue painting was cause I was really stressed out. My work was really demanding; organizing for me was demanding. I wanted to do something for myself… that I knew was really therapeutic. I’ve been wanting to take an art class for some time so this was the best time to do it.
Aileen: That’s crazy cause when I saw you at the show doing live paintings I wouldn’t have ever thought you were a beginner.
Elaine: That’s the first time I’ve ever done live art! Neither has BEAN! We didn’t know what to do. We were like, “I guess we’ll just paint till we have no more time,” haha.
Aileen: You guys played it off pretty well. You got me, haha. So I wanna know where do you feel you get your inspiration from?
Elaine: Definitely for me when i first started painting, a lot of my inspiration came from the exposure trip I took with Babae last summer 2008. It’s basically a trip for any Babae members where we go to the a side of the Philippines folks usually don’t get to see. We went to the cordillera region, the indigenous area so a lot of my paintings when I first started were the things I’ve learned there and the people I’ve met.
Aileen: Where was it at in the Philippines?
Elaine: Northern most region of Luzon. The top part of that whole island. The top part… we went to a small community called Kalinga. It’s like mad remote.
This trip for me became really inspiring and touching. There’s a painting I did of a little boy who was like literally one of the children we spent a lot of time with on the trip. We called him, “Pot-Pot,” but his real name was like “Donald” or something.
Then I did another piece called, “Igorota” and it’s of an idigenous woman with tattoos. She was another woman we met there. We stayed at her house for a whole week and a half we were there.
A lot of my first paintings were definitely from my experience here. Since their life is so different, the culture is so strong and not colonized. So it really opened my eyes to not live in excess, to really see the connection to simple living. And to see how frivolous things can be in the U.S. Over there they seem so happy and so full. Thas something they took back with me and express through my paintings.
Aileen: What kind of things did you guys do there?
Elaine: It was an exposure trip so we went there to understand what kind of life you would be livin if you wre in the Philippines. As Fil-Ams they think the Philippines is like Boracay. They see there’s slums but folks don’t understand how it feels to live in the Philippines. So the purpose [of this trip] is to do whatever they do. We can understand the general hardships. Just to live the way they do. We were with indigenous farmers so they taught us how to plant rice. It’s hella hard to plant rice! We also helped raise their children, feed their kids, and help cook. We shadowed them basically for that week and a half.
And it’s like they’re living among the forest. There’s no trail. You wouldn’t know where to walk unless you walked there your entire life. And If you don’t have access to wood you don’t build a house there. If there’s no sun, there’s no electricity. If you need gas, they’d have to take a 6-hour tirp to get gasoline. We take a lot of things for granted here in the U.S. And for them, you know, like the things we think are normal, everyday things people have, that’s not the life for them. So when I came back, I really thought about that.
Life was so much different. It was a wonderful experience. Its those kind of stories that I want to tie back into my art.
Aileen: That’s dope. I really admire that. You don’t see that stuff too often in art.
Elaine: Mainstream art is all about the aesthetics, if it’s cute and that it’s nice. But it’s not always the content. But for me it’s really important the content reflects who I am, but in more general the stories that folks think don’t exist. I think that’s kind of what I wanna get with in my art. These are our stories, these are what our people look like. A different kind of strength a lot of our people don’t get to see a lot of the time.
Aileen: Would you say there’s a certain theme, style, or trademark to your pieces? If so, what is it?
Elaine: I don’t have a trademark yet, I think I’m still trying to find my identity as an “artist.” Calling myself as an artist is a really weird thing for me. One for sure thing though I know is the color [I use]. I like using really bright vivid colors. The style can very though. I notice I can do pretty realistic stuff and something really cartoony and tribal looking. I like to vary the styles so that its not super recognizable. I’ve been experimenting with that kind of stuff. Haven’t quite fuond what people would define me. But a lot of people told me the colors are pretty noticeable.
Aileen: Yeah, they are. I noticed in your peacock piece, you used a lot of teal and other bright colors. And I’m attracted to bright colors so I hella fell in love with it. I’m pissed I didn’t bring any fkn” cash to the show! I woulda fkn bidded on it!
Elaine: haha, It’s okay, I do prints! I’m all about making art accessible. I think the hang-ups I have as being an “artist” is the misconceptions I have. I say a lot of people feel art is something that a lot of people can’t reach. That art is behind a glass case that to get the original you have to go to a show or whatever. I’m supportive for arts to be accessible for folks. I want folks to take [my art] home with them. I think that’s really important. I don’t wanna be an artist in the sense that I’m living through my art, I don’t need for myself to be sustained by making art work. I don’t plan on selling art by selling millions of art. I’m more so for creating art. I’m precessing through I’ve gone through and experienced. I want people to be able to see and access it, enjoy and criticize it, interact with it. And if I lose money in the mean time, I don’t mind that.
I want people to be able to see and access it. Enjoy and criticeize with it. Interact with it. And if I lose some money in the mean time. I don’t mind that.
Aileen: So you’ve talked a lot about the Pilipino culture, how has being a Filipina (in San Francisco) influenced your paintings, if at all?
Elaine: I think that’s the lens that I create with. I think that you know I have a real strong identity as a Filipina. I’ve really molded out of my experience. As an immigrant that was undocumented 15 out of the 17 years I’ve lived at the U.S. I have a strong identity who I am as a pinay and my experience as to how I see the world. For the longest time I was afraid. I couldn’t tell anyone who I was. I had to like keep it in my mind. I have a strong experience with immigration that resonates with me still. One of the things that really drives me forward is I know that I’m not the only one. I think thats important to paint from that lens like that.
In mainstream people don’t acknowledge this as something beautiful. There’s lot of strength, happiness, struggle in this and I think I want to capture that for folks to see. Thats what I would self-define as success. That people can see themselves in the work I can create. I don’t want to be rich with it, I just want folks to see that their lives are works of art and worth portraying as such.
Aileen: Well, you definitely have a different handle on being an artist; a different take. A lot of the artists I come across don’t take into consideration anything you portray in your pieces. Your pieces are something else.
Elaine: Haha, thanks.
Aileen: Np. Alright, so when I was trying to research and for more of your pieces, I saw that on your artist profile on the Diwang Pinay site, you stated: “As a painter, she holds that art is a means to interact with the current culture.” You’ve said a lot about the Philippine culture, but I don’t know do you wanna elaborate for me what specifically you meant by “current culture?”
Elaine: I think that ya know I don’t see art as an aesthetic. It’s not just paint on the wall or some print shit to decorate your home with. Art is culture. It’s our lives personified. Its a piece in the moment of history. It reflects their pain , loves, interest. It defines their moment in time for a group of people. I think artists should have a huge responsibility to the people they create for.
I always think who is this for? How can this uplift and benefit my community? Art can be empowering, educating, agitating people, to teach an issue, to reflect something you don’t like about life. Critiquing anything. Art can be used as a tool to achieve many things to benefit people. As an artist we should feel that responsibility.
Aileen: Art has become more than just an outlet for folks but more so an alternative form of activism and I know you’re apart of Babae, I was just wondering how being in that org has influenced your craft? Do a lot of your paintings come from inspiration from your org?
Elaine: I definitely feel art is a means to create social change or to transform our communities for the better. Babae def shaped who I’ve come out to be. Who I’m trying to transform myself to be as an artist. Being able to see the world with a lens of a marginalized woman of color and Filipina, I learned all that in Babae. I definitely attribute all that in Babae and community work in general.
Aileen: Okay, to go back to your Diwang pieces since they’re the ones I’m currently obsessed with, haha. Which one out of all the pieces at Diwang was your personal favorite?
Elaine: My favorite is “Pot-Pot” cause he’s a real person and he’s so cute! I think it’s also because it really surprising for me to really capture. There’s only 4 of us who went there to know who that guys is. It’s probably one of those paintings I wont sell. And its a real living person that I met and I touched and I felt. Its not a rendition of him, its my first attempt of painting someone. Also cause it’s just mad cute.
Aileen: Aww, yeah it is hella cute. But forreal I really liked your peacock painting, where did you get your inspiration for that one? Cause I’ve been hella into peacocks now. But my favorite animal is still the penguin, but I’ve been real into owls and peacocks now. I don’t know why.
Elaine: Oh yeah, me too! I like owls, they’re hella cute.
Aileen: Yeah? They got hella owl and peacock shit at Forever 21 now. It’s like wtf is this print? But yeah, anywayyyy, how’d you get into that peacock piece?
Elaine: I made that in December, I actually made a lot of peacock ones. In December I was thinking about “beauty,” I don’t know why. But I wanted to make something for friends of mine, a couple of women I’m really close to. And so I was trying really hard to thin of something I can make for them for them to see how I see them as people. And you know pacocks are really male birds and they’re the pretty ones. Pea-hens, the female versinos are actually not very colorful. And people will say they’re dull and drab and boring. So when I was painting peacocks for a couple of women I really care about, I put them on mirrors to see the peacock in themselves, (”I thought of your first post when she said this, D.Scott!” – Aileen) to show as a woman you are beautiful. It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s different colors and layers to your beauty.
My “Ruffled feathers” piece had the same sentiment as that. It’s a regular girl and in her hair she has the features of a peacock. Something you wouldn’t see women have.
Aileen: You know what’s kinda funny, what you just said about peacocks is what one of our writer’s posted on 12FT. I think you’d actually like his post. He found a peacock in someone’s backyard, you should check it out.
Elaine: Haha, alright I will.
Aileen: Okay, to switch it up a bit. You said Diwang was pretty much your first live art show. And I know you mentioned you wouldn’t mind doing more, but personally what kind of environment do you really like to paint in?
Elaine: A tidy one! Isn’t that crazy? Artist are usually free. But for me, not at all. I’m completely moronically organized. I don’t make a mess and I have a pretty simple and small art space.
Aileen: What kind of emotions do you go through when you start painting? Is it different every time?
Elaine: I’m usually just really excited. I think I’m not much of an emo painter. You know how people paint their feelings. You know, I’m not so much like that right now. I get really excited. I like painting because its fun for me. It’s more so fun. It’s a release for me. I feel like so much of my day is really serious. I have so much intensity in my day already so when I paint I go in the opposite direction. I like them to be cute and colorful and friendly and shit. Sometimes I’ll stop and look at it and laugh at it. I’ll think its’ funny I laugh a lot at my paintings. That’s when I know I’m making something good.
I’ve painted before under pressure. I was forcing myself to make something to give to an art show. At the end of it I didn’t like what I made and gave them something else. That’s one of the learning lessons I made, I know it’ll come out good if while I’m painting at it and laughing at it.
Aileen: Haha, that’s cool. No emo! haha. So do you go through a process or ritual before you start painting? Or do you just dive into it?
Elaine: Actually I do, I like to sketch it out if I have an idea in my head already. Transfer from my sketchbook to the canvas but it doesn’t usually look the same. I would usually sketch out an image on the canvas and do somethin called, “underpainting” – outline it with a marker or a paintbrush. Then I paint it in layers. I like to have a TV on when I paint, too! I don’t like music on, I like TV on.
Aileen: Oh, really? That’s interesting. What kind of stuff do you like your TV to be on while you paint?
Elaine: I usually really paint late at night. I usually really don’t start painting till 10pm or 2 in the morning or something stupid like that. It’s usually like late night TV. I don’t like, what’s that fucking thing called? Where they make you buy shit? I don’t like those things. I’ll try certain TV shows something I’m usually into and leave it on. Or a channel I generally like – I like USA network. Is that it? Channel 42. If I could have NCIS, Law and Order SUV, all those crime scene things I would just have that playing all fucking day.
Aileen: Yeah, all my friends are real into that show. One of my good friends is actually majoring in that forensic science shit cause she liked that show, haha. But anyway, we’re winding down a bit. You wanna let us know where we can find your art work? Is there anywhere we can see online or anywhere else?
Elaine: Nothing live right now. A bunch of photos on my facebook, haha. I’m actually working on my blog though. It’s lainerz.wordpress.com. The premise isn’t active right now. I got 1 or 2 posts. One of my rabbit is on the blog right now. I’m really on working no blogging though. A blog no art and trying to provide a different perspective on art. I’ll be taking photos of my art and putting it on that blog – that’s probably the main place I’ll put them.
But I’m always down if folks want me to be apart of something. I’m very virginal in art stuff, haha. I literally just started painting and I was in my first show in January. And Diwang was my second show. But I’m more interested in showing in community typed settings. But galleries I’m down with that kind of stuff, too.
Aileen: Dope, dope. Alright here’s a fun question! I just wanted to change the mood up, haha. Okay if you could be one color what color would you be and why?
Elaine: I would be the color purple! I’m gonna sound all activisty right now, it’s kinda gross. But the color purple is kind of known as the color of feminism. It’s not pink the gender stereotypical. Purple is kind of the re-definition of women. One: Purple’s hot! It’s been HOT. I’ve been on the up and up on purple even before the hipsters. It’s also the color of Gabriela Philippines, the organization I pledge my allegiance to. It’s all encompassing I love that.
Aileen: Nice. Aside from painting though, what do you enjoy?
Elaine: I like doodling? I guess that close, haha. I like reading books. I like to pretend I know how to skateboard. I’m not really good at it but I like to pretend I’m good at it. Having a skateboard makes me look cool. If I wanna veg, i’ll watch a movie like Super Troopers.
Aileen: Super Troopers, yes! Okay one last final question… kind of. If you only had one more painting to paint, what would you paint and why?
Elaine: Like before I die? Or like before I’m handicapped? Okay, I would want to paint a portrait on old house I lived in when I was in the Philippines. I have a picture frame of it in my room. This is something I actually wanna get tattooed on my arm. Write this down it’s: “p7.qc.mnl.pi,” it’s project 7 Quezon City, Manila City. That’s where I’m from and born and raised. It’d come full circle if that’s what I was gonna paint. I wanna paint where I first started.
Aileen: That’s cool, it makes sense. So any other artists you wanna recommend to 12FT?
Elaine: I like Filipino artists: James “Ganyan“ Garcia – a filipino artist and friend of mine I think in terms of artistic capability, he has fresh style. He’s all abuot painting futuristic-ish fairy-taley type stuff. I tihnk he has a sick ass style. And Audrey Kawasaki – a big up and coming artist from LA. She’s Japanese who paints kinda sexy, kinda creepy girls who are half naked, very manga-looking, with random shit next to it. She’s a specific painter, but I like the mystery in that her style exudes. Those two are my favorite artists right now.
But there’s a whole mess of community artists I’m down with. One of them I geuss I’ll mention, she’s 20 years old from Vallejo, Robin David. And her artist name is, “Bambie.” And she just has so much much potential and shes’ erally gorwing into an amazing artist. And because she is mad young you can see her grow up as a woman and with her art. So I like watching her shit.
Aileen: Sah-weeeeet. I’ll keep a look out for those folks. So while we’re wrapping it up, anything else you’d like to let the folks at 12FT know?
Elaine: I would definitely want to encourage folks, if folks dig me and my art they they’ll dig my org. Definitely a plug for Babae and a plug for future Diwang Pinays. My general idea is the message the org I’m apart of has to share. And I love my bunny and I love my darling!
If you like Ms. Elaine’s art work or need more info on any of the orgs she’s apart of feel free to contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org