Artist introduces local heroes into fantasy world

Red Deer artist Mike Villasana unveils real-life “superheroes” in his first solo exhibit at The Hub on Ross.

Red Deer artist Mike Villasana unveils real-life “superheroes” in his first solo exhibit at The Hub on Ross.

Among the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman paintings in Villasana’s show, Gotham in Red Deer, are some familiar faces.

Look beneath the removable masks and you will see mini portraits of Mayor Tara Veer and other members of Red Deer City Council, rendered in acrylic paint and Sharpie marker.

The Philippines-born artist said he decided to introduce some real local heroes into the DC Comics fantasy world as a way of expressing his appreciation for all that the City of Red Deer has done for the arts.

“I want to recognize city councillors for the things they do daily. They are very amazing to me… very heroic to me,” said Villasana, who moved to Red Deer with his family seven years ago.

At the time, he noticed Red Deer’s downtown was looking rather drab and uninspiring. Now it’s spruced up with flower baskets and outdoor concerts on the Ross Street Patio during the warm months — and with decorative lighting and artsy murals, year-round.

“I admire the downtown now. It’s very colourful… very interactive,” said the 28-year-old, who was among the artists hired for a couple of summers to beautify the back of the John Howard Society building.

The former visual arts student at Red Deer College who also had some advertising art training in the Philippines, decided to paint a mural of Marilyn Monroe snapping a selfie to put a “twist” on a pop-culture image.

His latest distortion is melding aspects of this city with the DC Comics world in his first solo exhibition at the Hub. This is shown most vividly in a painting of Batman silhouetted near Red Deer’s onion-shaped water tower.

Villasana, who switched from collecting Wolverine to the darker-themed Batman comic books after coming to Canada, creates artworks that look like comic panels, with flat areas of colour outlined in black.

Some of his pieces resemble large playing cards with an upside-down reversal of heroes, such as Superman or Wonder Woman, with their arch-enemies, Lex Luthor and Cheetah.

Villasana admitted his mood dictates how he hangs these pictures. If he’s feeling good, then Superman is right-side up. If he’s feeling low, then it’s Luthor.

Fellow comic buffs will also recognize Batgirl, Batwoman, Poison Ivy and the Joker in his art. (There’s no Robin, however, because Villasana isn’t a fan of the Boy Wonder.)

He is a fan of Czech art nouveau artist Alfonse Mucha, however, and has reinterpreted Mucha’s Four Seasons as a series of four female comic characters — including Harley Quinn and Catwoman.

Villasana’s Gotham in Red Deer exhibit runs to Feb. 29. The Hub on Ross gallery is open for viewing weekdays from 9-4 p.m.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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