Living Life in Technicolor
Jose' Villarrubia sees Baltimore through a prism of color. With an artist's eye Villarrubia brings life to his artwork through his medium of choice -- color. Warmth, feeling, and emotion are expressed as much in color as in the fluid lines of great works of art. He is currently one of the most acclaimed colorist working today. With Mt. Vernon as his home base Villarrubia considers himself a proud Baltimorean.
Born in Madrid, Villarrubia first came to Baltimore -- Randallstown to be exact -- via England as a13-year-old to learn English through a summerlong foreign exchange program. It was pure chance that his school had an exchange program with Baltimore and once here, he says he fell in love with the city.
At the end of the program he reluctantly returned to Madrid, vowing to return to Baltimore. Following his high school graduation, a year studying at the University of Madrid, Villarrubia finally returned to to the U.S. and Baltimore as a student majoring in painting at The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). He's been a local Baltimorean ever since. He went on to earn a Master's degree from Towson State University, where he taught as a adjunct professor for many years.
During his 30 years in the U.S., Villarrubia has been very busy indeed. In addition to his faculty position at Towson University, he's also taught at the Baltimore School for the Arts. His current full-time gig as a faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He's currently teaching three classes for the Illustration department at MICA. Introduction to Illustration, Illustration Concepts and a class called Eros in which the students will make erotic art.
It was his degree in painting that eventually led him to specialize in color for graphic novels and comics. That and because he was asked. "I became very good friends with an artist named Jae Lee who worked at Marvel Comics who decided to start his own series. He wanted to do something completely different from what anyone else was doing in regards to color."
Using his background in fine art painting, Villarrubia used water colors to create a more "artistic" look for the series, Hellshock for Image Comics. That collaboration lead to many more jobs with Lee and more work for Villarrubia with other writers, artists, and editors. As one project turned into another, Villarrubia gained a reputation for his eye for color and eventually became the go to guy for color.
Villarrubia had found his niche in the comic book industry, which is all about specialization, he says. It's rare to find someone who creates every aspect of a comic. And, where once it was about putting the color onto paper using a colored pencil, now most of his work is done with a digital pencil.
Comics aren't Villarrubia's only game. His versatility and adaptability are what keep his art career going. From fine art painting, photography, digital art, comics, and computer graphic novels, he can deliver many different types of products for many different mediums. His works include The Mirror of Love which features images of local Baltimore landmarks like the Baltimore Cemetery on North Avenue, Voice of Fire, Promethea and Sweet Tooth.
"I get to work with many of my heroes its wonderful."
His current project is with artist Pat Masioni who's from the Congo. The critically acclaimed series, the Unknown Soldier, is produced by Vertigo Comics. The two issue story takes place in Africa and Villarrbia's talents with color adds to the beauty and complexity of this haunting story. He also works in the fantasy field enjoying super heroes and political themed art work
Villarrubia hearts MICA
Although Villarrubia has worked with some of the best writers and artist in the comic book industry stars like Lee, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore, and Scott Hampton, his true love is Baltimore, its beauty and it's art.
"Baltimore is a great town for artist to live in. Most artist come to Baltimore because of the art schools and the community. Once they graduate they stay in the community because of the support they give to each other."
Villarrubia's love for MICA and his friends is what keeps him in Baltimore. "Mica is a very special school. It's unlike any other art school." He has joyfully watched as MICA has become a more diverse school in regards to it discipline and curriculum.
"MICA used to be more fine arts focused. It's still a very creative place but has become a more professional school. We train students not only to become great artist but hopefully to be independent and have a good head for the business once they get out."
Best of all, most of the people who work or teach at MICA are Baltimore natives or long time residents. "MICA tries to integrate its students into the urban community with a directive from the school to the faculty of Illustrations Creativity to produce programing that involves the community."
The color of love
One of the bonuses to living in Baltimoreare the many free art experiences in the city that he says people should take advantage of. "We have great museums in Baltimore like the most unique museum in the United States, The Visionary Art Museum. And if you want interesting art Baltimore art is very accessible."
As an artist, Villarrubia has high hopes for the new Station North art district in lower Old Goucher along the North Avenue corridor between Howard Street and Guilford Avenue.
With that artist's vision Villarrubia says he sees the charm in charm city through a spectrum of color. "Baltimore is so beautiful."
When he looks at objects or buildings he notices the color first. "Specializing in color by default I now notice how things look abstractly. At home or travelling or walking around the street I see the colors and how they work together."
To Villarrubia, Baltimore is "orange". "When it comes to Baltimore colors I think of the Orioles, the orange and black. It's a happy color, vibrant, and a little bit dangerous." It's also one of his favorite.
James A. Carroll is a Baltimore born and breed freelancer.