The exhibit will be on display through Oct. 15 on the U of A campus.
We all deal with trauma in different ways, but for Alejandro Villagran, his way of coping is through art.
“There is beauty in the struggle,” Villagran says. “There are so many things that I’ve learned from dealing with racism, dealing with homophobia, dealing with rejection.”
Villagran is a University of Arkansas graduate, artist and graphic designer whose inaugural exhibition Introduction is on display at the U of A in Fayetteville. He grew up with his mother and two siblings in Mexico while his father lived in the United States. Though his dad would visit every six months, it was a difficult situation that created misunderstandings.
When Villagran was 12 years old, his family moved to California to reunite with his father. Villagran felt like an outcast at his new school where kids made fun of him, so he took refuge in art.
“To be seen as the immigrant kid that people can pick on because he doesn’t speak English very well, or he’s weird, he wears girls’ clothes sometimes, or he wears jeans that are too skinny, things like that that I didn’t know how to handle at the time so I would just take it all out in my art,” he says.
Some of that art is now on display at the Anne Kittrell Art Gallery as part of Villagran’s first exhibition that highlights drawings he’s collected for about five years. The young artist didn’t want to show off his work for about a decade because his creativity was a personal act.
“It was a form of therapy to create some sort of perfection that I didn’t have in my life at the time,” he says.
The show consists of images of pop culture icons like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, as well as drag queens he’s met. His drawings are often colorful and feminine.
“When I look at femininity, I think of it as something that is just so beautiful and that is healing, that is bright, is smart, it’s just forward-thinking,” he says.
Villagran’s parents attended the exhibition’s opening reception and his mom says she’s proud that he’s realizing his dreams. Villagran attributes his success to the many women in his life, particularly his mother, who has supported his desire to become an artist since he was a child.
“If it wasn’t for my mom, I would have probably been gone a long time ago,” he says. “I’m talking about mental health issues. I’m talking about not knowing how to deal with certain things on your own.”
Alejandro Villagran’s inaugural exhibition Introduction will be on display at the Anne Kittrell Art Gallery on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville through Oct. 15. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
More information about the artist’s work is available at www.alejandrovillagran.com.