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Robert Villamagna, West Virginia’s Tin Man

Meet artist Robert Villamagna. He is a tin cutter, retired art professor, flea market addict, collagist, vegetarian, collector, Veteran, and film lover. He describes his art as “a creation of assemblages and metal collages, primarily using found objects, vintage photographs, and repurposed lithographed metal. This printed metal, or ‘tin’, comes from deconstructed product containers, old signage, and vintage metal toys.”

Villamagna grew up in Appalachia, primarily in the Ohio River rustbelt. From the time he was a preschooler, he had a mark-making tool in his hand. Growing up, most men in his neighborhood were steelworkers or miners. The themes and narratives found in Villamagna’s work come from his own life experiences, as well as stories that the found objects or vintage photographs may want to tell.

In 2016, Robert Villamagna was named “West Virginia Artist of the Year!”

His work has been exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum, Senator John Heinz History Center, Society for Contemporary Craft (Pittsburgh), the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Tamarack’s David L. Dickirson Fine Arts Gallery, and the West Virginia Culture Center to name a few. Six of his works are in the State of West Virginia Permanent Collection. In 2016, Villamagna was named “West Virginia Artist of the Year”. 

Learn more about Villamagna with our Q&A:

What inspired you to become an artist?

It all began when my mom, her date (he would eventually marry my mom and adopt me) and I visited the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. I was not quite five years old. I was very impressed by the displays of knights armor. That evening we returned to my grandparents home, where we were living at the time. I got hold of a pencil plus a pad of paper and positioned myself on the living room floor. I spent the rest of the evening drawing a series of knights, when my future dad said “That looks exactly like what we saw today!”. From that moment I knew that I was hooked on creating images. 

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Getting a teaching position in the art department at West Liberty University and teaching there for 22 years. Outside of making art, it’s the greatest job I ever had. It was a wonderful experience. 

What obstacles do you need to overcome to find your creative space/muse?

My biggest obstacle is ME! I’ve got to get out of my own way so that stuff can happen. I have to constantly remind myself not to prejudge what I’m working on. I’ve just got to push forward and make my work. That’s not an easy task sometimes. I have to accept the fact that not everything I do is going to be good. I’m going to make some crap along the way. Even the great artists, if you really look at their entire body of work, make some clunkers. I have to remind myself that those clunkers eventually lead to something awesome.

How do you find your inspiration?

It’s so varied! I find visiting museums and galleries can be extremely inspiring! So can taking a walk outdoors, looking through a magazine, listening to music, overhearing a conversation as I’m checking out of the grocery store, or revisiting one of my old sketchbooks. Even scrolling through my Instagram feed can me inspirational. Inspiration is all around us! You’ve just got to be open to receiving it.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Don’t wait for inspiration! Waiting for inspiration is a big waste of time. Go to wherever it is that you make your work and do something. Start drawing, scribbling, playing with paint, cutting paper…..just do it. Something will come from it, believe me. Just push forward. It won’t necessarily be something good, but it will lead to good stuff.

What is your favorite piece(s) you’ve made and why?

I’m probably the toughest critic regarding my own work. One of my faves is a piece titled “Moundsville Prison Break, 1949”. It’s an installation of individual oil pen portraits of 14 escapees created on repurposed metal. I’m just pleased how that one came together. It’s part of the permanent collection of the State of WV now. Another one I’m proud of is “Old King Coal”, which pictures an old, broken down anthropomorphic hunk of coal on crutches. He is wearing a gold crown as he tries to step over a gas line. I’ve never been able to show this in West Virginia, but it did get accepted in an exhibition in Pittsburgh a few years back. 

How can our readers purchase your art?

I currently don’t have any gallery representation, so interested parties can contact me directly through my website, @wv_tinman on insta and @wvtinman on FB. 

– HashtagWV #141. April 2022.

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HashtagWV Art & Entertainment is a high-quality print and digital multimedia platform for all things West Virginia and the greater Appalachian region. The editorial focus is local music, unique shopping, the arts, events, theatre, and food and drinks.