San Antonio/ Arts & Culture
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Published on June 10, 2024
San Antonio Welcomes New Whimsical Sculptures by Local Artist Joe R. Villarreal on West Commerce StreetSource: Google Street View

The West Side of San Antonio is embracing a vivid burst of nostalgia and color thanks to local artist Joe R. Villarreal, who recently added two dynamic sculptures to the neighborhood fabric. Villarreal, known primarily for his paintings, prints, and murals that adorn several local dining spots, has extended his talents into the realm of public sculpture with pieces titled "El Papalote" and "El Trompo". These new installations are proudly situated along West Commerce Street near the intersection with Frio Street, introducing an element of childhood whimsy to a district marked by its bail bond shops and parking lots.

"El Papalote" depicts a kite constructed from a folded 'La Prensa' newspaper, while "El Trompo" is a larger-than-life representation of a colorful spinning top, both recalling the artist's own childhood memories. San Antonio's Department of Arts and Culture held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 25, celebrating the sculptures' addition to the community, an event that Villarreal and a host of dignitaries attended. In the words obtained by San Antonio Report, "He’s been a really prolific District 5 artist, his artwork is all over District 5 in restaurants and buildings and people’s homes," noted Krystal Jones, the executive director of the Department.

Villarreal's journey to this point in his career has been marred by significant person challenges. After retiring from a 22-year gig as a graphic designer at Southwest Research Institute, he turned his full attention to art—a passion he's cultivated since age four. It took the artist nearly seven years to complete "El Icecreamero," a sculpture portraying an ice cream vendor reminiscent of those from Villarreal's own childhood in the West Side. Despite the grueling process, marked by a cancer bout, a heart attack, and the loss of his mother, the 13-foot artwork now sits in Villarreal's yard, awaiting a permanent spot in the community. Villarreal shared with San Antonio Report, “I have photos of blood, sweat and tears. Actual blood, because you will cut yourself when you’re working with wire mesh.”

And it's not just Villarreal's sculptures that are impacting the local landscape. The Department of Arts and Culture has broadened its inclusivity efforts, resulting in a more diverse array of applicants for public art projects. They have particularly focused on providing opportunities to artists from multiple generations who may not have had similar chances in the past. Jones expressed her excitement in a statement by saying, "We’ve been so excited to give all generations of artists an opportunity, because they may have not had it in the past." According to a Headtopics interview, the Department's outreach has led to projects that clearly resonate with the community.

Villarreal still harbors hope for "El Icecreamero" to be placed in a formal spot where it can be admired by the public. Until then, "El Papalote" and "El Trompo" are cementing his legacy, making sure his dream lives on through the streets of the West Side. The artist implied that the duo of sculptures realized a lifelong ambition but suggested that finding a permanent home for "El Icecreamero" would indeed "cap the whole thing," as per his interview with San Antonio Report.