“I like to paint people, I’m fascinated by them,” says Ghent-based artist Shirley Villavicencio. “They’re so different from one another and every one has a story that makes them unique.” Always interested by drawing and painting as a child in Peru, Shirley eventually settled on the latter as a way to tell her story. Focusing on “where I come from, the people I’ve met and the people that are important in my life,” she depicts her subjects and surroundings with a delicate intimacy that evokes feelings of familiarity and informality.
“I began by painting memories, but after I while I started portraying people in real life and creating a moment of closeness during the process,” she tells It’s Nice That. Many of the figures in her work are women because Shirley is a great admirer of the female form: “It’s beautiful and it makes you think about life, love and Venus (the goddess).” However, as her practice progressed she realised that there were virtually no men in her paintings, and began inviting male friends over to pose for her. “Men have interesting faces,” she says. “But I don’t like to focus on the difference between the sexes. To me, they are just human beings.”
After experimenting with different materials and techniques, Shirley decided that she liked working mainly with acrylic paint, but eventually branched out to spray paint and oils. During her process, she says she likes to paint “dirty”, never relying on primary colours and always looking to mix and create new tones. Her canvas has changed too, from originally painting on wood panels to her current choice of a more traditional linen canvas.
“At the beginning, my work was softer and I made paintings people would ‘like’, but they were not true to who I am,” she explains. Described by her friends as chaotic, spontaneous and energetic, Shirley decided she wanted these parts of her personality to be reflected in her work. “I adopted a new style that was more me, and at that point I realised I had finally found my own personal way of painting.”
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