ON THIS APRIL DAY, a steady drizzle enhances Chinatown’s eccentric visual splendour. I pass through the narrowest of doors, upon which reads “Mitchell Villa Art Studio,” hand-lettered in a style evoking a 1940s accounting firm. At the top of Chinese-red stairs, I arrive in a compact live-work studio full of outsized canvases.
One wall is covered by Villa’s latest work in oil, still wet: an eight-by-fifteen-foot triptych of a larger-than-life dinner party. The energy of the guests’ shifting gestures and expressions frames a decadent, Renaissance-inspired feast. Villa’s trademark realism, with its stuttered, multi-exposure layering, accentuates the lively, debaucherous scene. A pair of alert, stud-collared dobermans (the breed often makes appearances in Villa’s work) add a sense of foreboding.
Villa moved to Victoria from Ontario at age three, and grew up mastering various media and rendering techniques (“instead of doing basketball and all that stuff, I was always in art classes”). At the Vancouver Film School, he immersed himself in digital image-making. Both the dinner-party triptych and a couple of six-by-eight-foot “middle-aged” portraits are created from assemblies of photographs Villa has costumed, staged and directed. He shows me the printouts of the collage-like images he’s created in Photoshop as reference for these meticulously styled visions.
"Midlife" by Mitchell Villa
Villa set up a stationary, time-lapse camera for the first actual dinner party he’d ever hosted (he learned the hard way not to try out new recipes in that context). “I ended up with three or four hundred photos…piecing everyone together with my favourite moments of that person…showing the movement, the passing of time, not just a snapshot, to emulate that environment in a dinner party. It’s somewhat chaotic; food being passed around, drinks are flowing.”
The juddering, filmic quality of Villa’s canvases has both a surrealist and cubist flavour at times. “Working with design and film definitely influences my work,” he says. “I incorporate that into my paintings.” Like a film director, “I can play god with what I’m working with— shift colours and add elements into a scene—from there applying it to the canvas.”
Mitchell Villa, “Prologue” solo exhibition at Fortune Gallery, 537 Fisgard Street, opens May 2, 7-9pm, and closes May 30. 250-383-1552, www.fortunegallery.ca or www.mitchellvilla.com.