Ryan Villarma’s “Water Series”

Inside the Thaw Art History Center, a series of three paintings hang on the wall. They tell the story of an apple that falls into the ocean, sinks into an abyss of rich, dark blue water and is slowly devoured by a pod of whales who are dwarfed by the apple’s massive form. This is the work of Ryan Villarma, a junior Studio Art major who specializes in painting. Gentle and reversed in both tone and color, Villarma’s “Water Series” speaks of quiet triumphs prevailing over personal challenges.

Ryan V. Water Series no. 1 Photo by Whitney Wernick

Villarma has been surrounded by art since she was very young and was inspired by seeing the work of other artists such as MC Escher and Salvador Dali. Additionally, both her parents are artists. Her mother is a ceramist who doubles as a high school teacher, and her father is a graphic designer. While Villarma’s main focus is painting, she also draws with graphite and wax pencil. She dabbles in sculpting and enjoys working with video due to its time based-medium and the way it can be used to alter a viewer’s experience with time, audio and sculpture.

“Growing up with artists for parents was good,” Villarma says. “They were very open, more so than my friends’ parents, and sharing my artwork with them wasn’t as hard because they were able to help me while not being too critical.” This accepting home environment helped Villarma freely develop her skills as an artist.

Ryan V. Water Series no. 2 Photo by Whitney Wernick

In the “Water Series,” Villarma uses an acrylic under-painting to capture basic shapes, forms and colors to create brilliant, dynamic tones paired heavily with the fine details created by the oil paint. Because acrylic work is better for working with specific shades, blending it can sometimes be difficult and Villarma needed value and contrast while painting. For this reason, she painted in the details of the water, apple and whales with oil paints after the under-painting dried.

After hearing the male and female bodies being referred to as two very simple shapes, Villarma chose to use the apple as a representation of the masculine body. This contrasts with the smaller forms of the whales, which represent the feminine antibodies that ultimately end up destroying the apple. This is an unexpected yet innovative interpretation of the masculine and feminine forms. Although Villarma admits her “Water Series” is more about her own personal struggles with gender dysphoria, she hopes her audience will still be able to find their own meaning in it, whether or not it’s what she intended for her pieces.

Ryan V. water series no. 3 Photo by Whitney Wernick

As a whole, the work is about gender dysphoria, and its imagery has been something Villarma has been thinking about for a long time. The
apple, in particular, has been with her since she was in the ninth grade, while the whales were a more recent addition to the concept.

“I was thinking: What’s a good way to symbolize masculinity and femininity, without it being penis and vagina like how it’s usually done in paintings,” she says. “I try to communicate it in a way that other people could find meaning in it. I think art is useful for that purpose, that it can help inform people on different things.”