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Carlos Villa, the pioneer Filipino American artist who rediscovered his roots

2 min read  · 15 Jun 2023

Carlos Villa, Painted Cloak (1971). Copyright the estate of Carlos Villa, courtesy of SFMOMA

Carlos Villa is on the HENI News radar after a major museum show of the late Filipino-American artist who created strange, cape-like paintings adorned with feathers.

Carlos Villa's HENI Score—a unique artist sentiment—has seen an impressive uptick of 136% after a touring survey of his work went on show in his hometown of San Francisco.

Villa’s work developed from early minimalist paintings and drawings to his charismatic sculptural pieces, which were inspired by his Filipino heritage combined with references to non-Western art. His works have been offered for between $6,000 and $200,000 over the past two years. They are untested at auction so far.

Villa’s estate is jointly represented by Silverlens, a Manila- and New York-based gallery, and Anglim/Trimble of San Francisco. Silverlens, which presented Villa’s work at its booth at Frieze New York in 2023, also now represents the estate of Villa’s cousin and fellow artist Leo Valledor.

Born in 1936, Villa came of age amid prejudice against Filipino Americans. Despite this, Villa and Valledor established themselves first in San Francisco and then in New York before both returned to the West Coast. It was in New York in the 1960s, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, that Villa moved away from abstract minimalism to develop his signature, sculptural paintings, which resemble the capes made by indigenous peoples.

Villa drew inspiration from a diverse range of non-Western ethnographic objects, such as those he discovered in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He adorned some of his patterned canvases with feathers and bones, and sometimes created ritualistic performances to accompany them.

The artist said he was spurred on when as a young man an art professor told him there was no such thing as Filipino art. Villa went on to teach at the San Francisco Art Institute. He championed Filipino American culture as well as works by other artists of color and female artists, many of whom were overlooked by most curators and critics at the time.

Carlos Villa. Maturing (1979-80). Copyright the artist’s estate. Courtesy of Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art / Crocker Art Museum

In 2022, “Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision” opened at the Newark Museum of Art, New Jersey, and then traveled to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries. The exhibition included works found in an attic crawl space in Villa’s studio after his death in 2013, ARTnews reported.

Silverlens is due to present a joint exhibition of Villa and Valledor’s work in its New York gallery in the fall of 2023.

To get a deeper understanding of Carlos Villa’s career visit his HENI Dashboard; a unique graphical data tool illustrating an artist’s auction sales, shows, profiles, mentions and their HENI Score. You can search for any one of the 100,000 Artist Dashboards to quickly appreciate their trajectory as well as sharing via email, text and WhatsApp.


Carlos Villa

San Francisco