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  • Natalie Taylor

TODAY’S ARTISTS OF SAN MIGUEL: Dreamlike landscapes and visions

I came across the artwork of Mila Villasana by chance. I was having lunch with a friend at Oko, an Asian restaurant in town, and ran into Alex Slucki, another friend. Alex told us that he was involved in facilitating a large work of art that will cover two opposing walls of the restaurant. He then whipped out his phone and gave us a preview of those images.

I have always had a great appreciation for dream-like art, where the images are lovely depictions of a magical world. They remind me of the elaborately illustrated fairy tale books done in the 19th century that I loved browsing through as a child. This is what I saw in Mila’s proposed illustration for the restaurant—a distortion of reality, a better interpretation of the world.

My interest in this particular type of art carries through to what I like to call, “benign” surrealism: fantastical settings without grotesque images. As an example, Rene Magritte’s paintings frequently show recognizable landscapes, either distorted or containing something extraneous that is clearly out of place.  Although Magritte lived through the horrors of the Nazi occupation during World War II, he chose to mostly steer away from showing the atrocities of those years. Instead, he turned to pleasant themes for inspiration: “I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive,” he said. His depiction of the tower of Pisa, held up by a large feather is a great example of bizarre, but not monstrous.

The paintings of Joan Miro, another renowned surrealist, are pleasing because of lovely color combinations. Paul Delveaux and Georgio de Chirico are two other surrealists whose works are the stuff of dreams. One may consider desolate villages with strange beings bordering on nightmarish visions, but these two artists seldom show harrowing images. Instead, they pull you into a world of “otherness.”

In contrast, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali, often delved into frightening, macabre images, as in his “Faces of War,” painting. One of the most famous “dark surrealist,” was Zdzislaw Beksinski who painted scary, disturbing settings with otherworldly beings one would not wish to ever encounter. An example is his “Night Creeper,” showing a dystopian place and a desiccated creature fumbling about.

These are, of course, personal preferences and in no way a cricism of any artwork, or artist. However, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a young woman whose painting I found pleasant and technically accomplished. Such is the painting below where bicycles appear in an unreal landscape, and shadows streak the pink-toned earth with turquoise lines. Her paintings and illustrations fall somewhere between surrealism and magical realism.

Mila Villasana is a San Miguel resident who arrived here in a roundabout way. She was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico, but when she was eight, her family moved to Burlington, Vermont. Her father found a position as a jeweler, and partnered with jewelry dealer. They lived there until she was 20, but because she was undocumented, she was unable to enter university in the US. A ray of hope appeared when Canada offered her the possibility of studying there, but those hopes were dashed when they refused. Back in Mexico, she found a similar problem; her US school records were “undocumented” as far as the Mexican government. It was a very difficult period, with Mila spending time at her parents’ house bemoaning her fate, and feeling unable to move forward. Her father finally gave her an ultimatum, insisting she leave, and strike out on her own. This “tough love” move was the best that could have happened to her.

Mila moved to Guanajuato City and worked in different positions to make a living. She was a barista, then a personal assistant, and in each position learned valuable lessons. During this time she was in “survival

mode.” What Mila had always wanted was to do illustrations and design. Even as a little girl she was always drawing; and in high school in Vermont had an opportunity to take design and illustration through a Tech program at her school. She took the course for two years and learned many aspects of the trade, including Photoshop, film production, drawing, and painting. The painting on the left was a commissioned work for a couple on their wedding. She painted a realistic picture of their beloved dog, and a forest setting as they liked to hike.

Eventually Mila moved to San Miguel de Allende and her career took off when she became involved with different non-profit organizations. Her first stint was with “Libros para Todos,” then making posters for the Food in Film Festival. As she made connections, other opportunities presented themselves—magazine covers, posters, and book covers.

One of the first books she illustrated was Paul Carlino’s memoir, then a children’s book cover for Alex Slucki, and then a movie poster for a documentary: Las Abogadas (the lawyers). The latter was very well received by audiences, and focuses on the work done by a group of female attorneys—American and Mexican—who advocate for, and assist migrants.

Mila feels good about living here and is open to potential clients for book covers, illustrations, posters, and other artwork. She likes San Miguel de Allende because “the people here have a purpose, and they put up roots.” As mentioned, she is currently working on a large-scale painting that will resemble a mural for the walls of Oko restaurant. I believe it will truly enhance the setting, and is theme appropriate. If you wish to get in touch with Mila, you can email her at: or visit her Instagram site.

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