Tualatin freshman draws from Aztec art, modern influences for school's library mural

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jacob Villanueva who is a freshman at Tualatin High School, stands in front of a mural he created he calls,  Mictlantecuhtli.At 15 years old, Jacob Villanueva already has a portfolio full of pencil and marker drawings and the occasional computer graphic.

Like any good artist, he only puts his best work in the plastic sleeves, keeping the rest loose or in his sketchbook.

His art is all angles and lines, a sharp style inspired by the art of his ancient Aztec ancestors. He’s experimented with other styles, but says this one is consistently more appealing to him and everyone else.

“It’s not comic book-y, and it’s not cartoony. It’s its own thing,” Villanueva says. “I think that’s what makes (my art) more individual, is that it doesn’t seem to stem from the same things as other art does.”

This individual style and Villanueva’s young age caught the attention of his art teacher, Jeannine Miller. She’d been working with the Tualatin High School librarian trying to find a student to paint a mural to hang above the library’s computers, and thought Villanueva was the right fit. She approached the freshman with the idea, and since October, he’s been spending hours every week working on the piece, which spans more than 10 feet in length.

“He’s used to working very small, and this is huge,” Miller says. “To come in everyday to work on it...I’m just very proud of him.”

But, there were some frustrating days in the beginning. Villanueva had rarely worked with paint prior to using acrylics on the piece, and his pages are typically small and torn from a book. So, the mural presented several new challenges.

“When I was starting the mural, it was sort of tedious. I didn’t really know how to go about it. It took quite awhile just to get started,” Villanueva says. “Eventually, it sped up, and it’s at the pace it’s going now, which I’m really happy about.”

Nearly complete, the two-panel installation uses bright colors and a black background to represent the Aztec symbols that drive Villanueva’s inspiration. Looking from left to right, if the viewer knows the Aztec meanings of each image, he or she would be able to determine the story the artist is trying to tell. He thought of each image separately, first pulling from his already substantial knowledge base, and then turning to the Internet for research when it started running thin.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jacob Villanueva who is a freshman at Tualatin High School, works on a mural he created he calls, Quetzalcoatl.“I pull the descriptions of sort of the deities, worships and paintings of Aztec art,” Villanueva says. “The mural is actually two-sided. One side is one god and one is the other. Throughout, it has all their symbols and related deities and such. It combines together to show the Aztec creation of human life, and the different gods responsible for it.”

The first panel represents the Aztec god of life and uses mostly cool colors, while the second represents the god of death and uses warmer tones. Villanueva also incorporated the Aztec symbol for movement, which is an eye surrounded by a geometric design. Enough of his art incorporates this image that it could almost be used as a signature or a clue in determining if a piece is his.

In the middle of the left panel is a blue wolf, tying in the Tualatin High School Timberwolf mascot, and in the bottom right corner is a banner with the Aztec representation of 1992, the year the school was established. Ultimately, the mural shows Villanueva’s heritage while relating it back to his current reality.

“I feel like the Hispanic community doesn’t know enough about the ancient cultures, like the Aztecs and American sub-cultures that created the modern Hispanic race. It’s just not as delved into as American history...there’s not as much leftover from it,” he said. “If there is a message I would have to include in my art, it would be to be proud of where you come from and what your culture is, because that’s what inspires me to do it.”

Villanueva already has a firm grasp on where he came from, where he is and where he’s headed. He knows who he is as an artist, which is something many creative types can spend years searching for. Maybe he’ll pursue a career in art, maybe he won’t, but Villanueva will keep sketching robots, rappers, Aztecs, Mayans, samurai and “a whole ton of crazy stuff” in his free time, adding the best to his portfolio and taking opportunities as they come.

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