Vincent Villafranca, one of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art’s more award-winning 3-D artist, spoke to us recently on about his origins in bronze sculpting, awards and the importance of conventions, demos and shows. Currently involved in genre and mainstream exhibitions, Vincent is an artistic force to be reckoned with.
Here’s what he had to say…
SF SIGNAL: You are a renowned bronze sculptor. There are much easier forms of sculpture to do, especially here in Texas in the summer, what drew you to bronze sculpting? How did you learn to work with bronze? You sometimes work with Bolivar Bronze? How did that relationship come about?
Vincent Villafranca: As a child I had a wild imagination. I drew endlessly in school and at home. When I was in first grade, my teacher gave each student some clay to play with, and I loved it. The only problem was whatever I made eventually wilted away or was somehow destroyed. I always wished there was a way to preserve a design. When I went to university in the early 90’s, I took a sculpture course as an elective. The instructor, Roger Colombik, introduced me to the process of bronze-casting. I was instantly hooked. After I graduated, I did an apprenticeship at Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry in the Wimberley area. I learned the more advanced methods of casting metals and mold-making. When I moved to north Texas, I interviewed at Bolivar Bronze and worked there several years. We were producing public art for various institutions and organizations. I still help them out with projects from time to time.
SFS: Most well-known bronze sculptors work in more mainstream genres – like traditional busts or Remington’s western bronzes. It seems almost paradoxical to combine such an old-fashioned medium with futuristic themes. Why did you pick the SF genre? And how do you see the old influencing the future?
VV: I started out making wildlife and western imagery because that’s the main market in Texas when it comes to sculpture. I quickly realized that there was a multitude of other sculptors doing the same thing. Nearly every large town in Texas has an artist sculpting whitetail deer or equestrian bronzes. I enjoyed the act of object-making and thought I would start making bronzes representing what I was really interested in–Fantasy and Science Fiction imagery. I have always been an unofficial member of fandom. My older siblings, especially my older brother, influenced me greatly and steered the development of my aesthetic. My brother was an avid Science Fiction reader. He’d never let me read his books, but he would let me study the covers. We were also really into the television thing. Star Trek, Lost in Space, old horror. We’d watch anything. I would try to visually catalog anything in the movies/shows that caught my eye and then try to sketch it for posterity.
As far as the old influencing the future, I still love integrating elements of the wildlife and western genres into my work. I have done some bronzes that are loosely-based on iconic western subjects such as gunslingers and mounted figures.
SFS: I know that you show your work at several major SF & Fantasy conventions. In fact you recently attended Renovation (69th World Science Fiction Convention). Why do you feel showing and attending conventions are important to artists? Are there other markets, such as galleries, in which people can see and purchase your work? At which other conventions can people see your work?
VV: I attend conventions regularly for two main reasons. First, I am a fan and enjoy being around other fans. Second, conventions are great places to show and sell art. However, with the economy being like it is, I am exploring every possible outlet to sell art and reach potential clients. I was fortunate to get into two museum shows this year.
Conventions are great venues for artists for many reasons. An artist, regardless of where they are in their career, can have the opportunity to show their work alongside other artists. This helps build the artist’s “show history,” in addition to allowing the public to see their imagery and possibly meet them. If an artist’s work is never seen, it cannot be appreciated by anyone other than the artist. Some artists are fine with that, however, most would like to have the opportunity to get feedback from others and possibly sell their finished pieces. Conventions are great for that! Also, at most conventions, an attending artist might have the opportunity to interface with the literary side of the genre.
In my opinion, this is important because there’s always an outside chance of a book cover deal taking place. Of course this doesn’t apply to sculpture too often. Anyhow, this month I’ll be attending ArmadilloCon 33 in Austin, as the AGOH [Artist Guest of Honor]. I will be attending FenCon in September, and IlluXCon in early November. I have also participated in the Sculptors’ Dominion show in San Antonio for several years and plan to continue doing that show. I am also scheduled to put some work in a new art gallery in north Texas starting in October.
SFS: One of the museum shows you mention is the Norman Rockwell Museum’s current exhibit, “Robot Nation” running until October 31, 2011. You were given an award for their “SteamPunkBot”. How were you chosen to participate in this exhibit? How does it feel to be part of an exhibition in such an iconic museum such as this?
VV: A friend of mine saw the call for entries for the “Robot Nation” exhibit on James Gurney’s blog and immediately forwarded the information to me. He knew I’m into making robots. The museum required each interested artist to submit a proposal-sketch along with a brief essay describing various aspects of the proposed piece. Then, the curators chose from that pool. I was thrilled to be accepted. When they contacted me after the opening to inform me that my robot won the “Steampunk Bot” award I was even more thrilled. I have been a fan of Norman Rockwell my entire life and to be involved in an exhibit at his museum is very, very exciting for me!
SFS: By participating in the Norman Rockwell Museum exhibit, you’ve exposed people outside of the SF community to your work. Is it important for artists to expand their horizons into other genres? Why or why not?
VV: Every artist has their own take on this. Personally, I think it can be a constructive move to branch out and experiment with other subject matter and media. As an artist explores imagery from other genres, it helps build that ever-important visual catalog from which the imagination typically draws. There are several well-known artists who have done this successfully; James Bama, Don Maitz and Donato Giancola are all good examples.
SFS: In addition to the Norman Rockwell award, at Renovation you were up for the Chesley Award for the fourth year in a row. Do you feel that these awards and others are important to an artist’s career?
VV: I’m really honored to be nominated for the Chesley Award this year! I think awards such as the Chesley can really boost an artist’s career. Any award is of value because they generally motivate an artist to keep producing. When I first showed at ArmadilloCon in 2004, I only sold one small piece of art. However, one of my sculptures won the “Zrubek Award,” which is given out every year by ArmadilloCon Art Director Scott Zrubek. The fact that I won that award gave me the motivation to return to ArmadilloCon the next year.
SFS: Speaking of awards, you have designed the Bradbury Award, given out at the Nebula banquet. You also designed the Illie Award, given out at IlluXCon. How were you approached to do these awards, and has it impacted your career?
VV: I was thrilled when The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America e-mailed me asking if I would be interested in designing the Bradbury Award. Their vice-president, Mary Robinette Kowal, saw some of my work at World Fantasy 2007 and picked up a business card. This is a good example of the benefits of the networking that takes place at conventions. I was thrilled to be involved, especially since the Bradbury Award went to Joss Whedon that year!
The Illie Award was another deal that happened at a convention. The organizers of IlluXCon, Pat and Jeannie Wilshire, wanted to start a new award recognizing the best traditionally-created work in the Fantasy/Science-Fiction field. They saw some of my sculptures and asked me to produce the award for the first year. The recipient of the first Illie Award was the awesome painter Mark Zug. This year, the Illie Award will be designed by sculptor Tom Kuebler. I can’t wait to see it!
SFS: You do a demo bronze pour at IlluXCon each year. Do you do these demos at other shows – SF or otherwise – where more people could see them?
VV: I enjoy doing the casting demos, even though they are a lot of work and logistics. The demo is a good way to convey what’s involved in the production of bronze statuary. I first started doing the casting demos in San Antonio, back in 2004 during the opening nights of the Sculptors’ Dominion art exhibit. I did it four years in a row and will probably do it there again in the future. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for WorldCon Texas 2013. I think that might be a great opportunity to do the demo.
For more information on Vincent Villafranca’s art and shows check out his website – http://www.villafrancasculpture.com/ — or come see it in person at ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX, August 26-28 or FenCon in Dallas, TX, September 23-25, 2011.
Interview written with Jimmy Simpson. Jimmy Simpson has been working at art shows for Interview written with Jimmy Simpson. Jimmy Simpson has been working at art shows for over 20 years. FenCon I did not have an art show, but when they were trying to recruit someone to run their art show, Jimmy was walking down the hall and was volunteered and has been running it ever since.