Pittsburgh Public Schools Friends of Art


The students made me feel like a rock star!

    On October 30th I met with a group of Pittsburgh public school students at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The young ladies were there to to interview me regarding a piece of my work that is part of the Pittsburgh Public School collection. The students asked in-depth questions and really probed me about my work. In addition to the piece in the collection, we also discussed my current work in the AAP Exhibition which is in it’s final weeks at the Carnegie. These artist interviews are a project of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Friends of Art. Here is a questionnaire that I was asked to complete prior to my interview.

Questionnaire for Pittsburgh Public Schools Friends of Art Collection

  1. What inspired you to make the work in the collection?

Each year I attempt to create works for specific exhibitions such as the AAP Exhibition. In 2008 I had created a work titled Union Leader, a piece based on Abraham Lincoln, to enter into the AAP show. Since artists are invited to enter two works, I started sketching a few cartoon-like heads in my sketchbook as a basis for a second entry. Through the magic of several pounds of flattened product containers and several hundred nails, one of those sketches morphed into Laughing Man with Green Hat. It’s funny how things work out in the art world, because Fearless Leader did not make the cut for the AAP show, but Laughing Man did. So I guess what really “inspired” me to create this work was a combination of my constant desire to make new work and my wanting to be a part of the AAP show at the Warhol.

  1. Why did you choose this media for the work?

I love working with metal cans, found objects and materials. There is something about taking this stuff and giving it a new life, a different life, than the one for which it was originally intended. In this piece I used printed metal from various product containers (“tin cans”), metal signs, and metal doll houses. I divide these materials up into groups based on color and value, similar to what a painter does with a palette. In addition to the great colors that the metal provides, I love the various textures that are the result of text, patterns, and images that might printed on the surface of the metal. This gives my finished work additional depth, and at the same challenges me to make good visual decisions. I love that challenge.

  1. Do you work in other media at other times? Why?

When I am not working with cut metal or found objects, I may  be found working in collage. On occasion I also work in various paint media, drawing  media, and hand built clay. Working in a variety of media keeps me on my toes, keeps my creative juices fresh.

  1. Can you put the message of the work in the collection into words?

The message is have fun, be creative, laugh, and reflect on the past occasionally.

  1. Do you generally have a particular focus to your work?

I must say that about 50% of the time I do have a particular focus, while the rest of the time I work in such a way to give the piece an opportunity to “design itself”.

  1. Do you have another occupation to support making your artwork?

Yes, I am an Assistant Professor of Art at West Liberty University in West Virginia. I teach 2D and 3D design; sculpture; painting; and crafts. I often say that I teach for 8 months so that I may make art for 4 months.

  1. What would you tell young students about being a professional artist?

I am not sure if you mean “being” as in one becoming an artist, but I will answer it that way first. Make as much art as you can. Draw, draw, draw! Regardless of the direction of your art or media, I feel drawing is the foundation, the core of making visual images. Keep paper, a sketchbook, a journal nearby at all times. Get your ideas down on paper even if you work digitally. For every minute you spend text messaging, spend equal time drawing and you will be GREAT! Look at a lot of stuff, not just art, but eveyrthing. Really look at your surroundings. Look at the world. Pretend you have arrived here from another planet and you are seeing this world for the very first time. Go to art exhibits, zoos, galleries, small towns, museums, big cities, woods, rivers, and places where artists work. And keep making art. As for me being an artist, I will refer to a quote I love by Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. Artists just show up everyday and work.” It is the second part of that quote that I am really referring to here.

  1. Why are you an artist?

Good grief! How could I be anything else? It seems to be in my blood. Seriously, I feel I have been an artist all my life even though I have had to do many “non-art” jobs. During those periods when I was working at other occupations, I still kept art making an active part of my life. I worked for 13 years in a steel mill, but I was always drawing, always making some kind of art when and where I could. I painted steelworkers helmets sometimes. During lunch breaks I used spray paint to create a series of huge portraits in a mill building called the stock house. The portraits were of my fellow workers, and that part of the building became known as “the hall of laborers”. It was this kind of activity that kept me sane in an environment that was not conducive to creativity. Making art is so satisfying. I love making art, seeing art, looking at books about art, talking about art making with other artists. I still get excited walking into a gallery, art museum, an artist’s studio or even an art materials store. These places pump me up. My exposure to them makes me want to go back into the studio and make MORE ART!

Green Hat 08

Laughing Man With Green Hat by Robert Villamagna, purchased for the Pittsburgh Public Schools Friends of Art collection in 2008



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