A Studio Visit; Rodolfo Villaplana and Mara Alves

Thanks to the proactive, determined efforts of MA student Tomás Rivera, I was able to take part in an intimate discussion regarding the artistic practice of Rodolfo Villaplana in his arts studio, and receive the wisdom and insight of an incredibly driven and influential female curator, and wearer-of-many-hats in the arts industry, Mara Alves. Students and friends of Sotheby’s Institute met at Villaplana’s studio in Bermondsey where we looked over his works in progress, his array of thickly layered painting palettes and collections of canvases stored throughout the industrial, once-factory, setting.

Hattie Turner, who I featured previously for her work with Arteviste, was in attendance along with myself and has written a descriptive account of the experience for those who could not be there in person. It’s an insightful piece of writing that captured how inspiring the studio visit was for people like ourselves, who are trying to figure out just where exactly we fit in the artistic/cultural domain. I hope it relays to you something from which you can pull inspiration for your own present and future experiences with art.


Rodolfo Villaplana Studio Visit at The Biscuit Factory, Bermondsey

By Hattie Turner


On the 24th April 2018, Sotheby’s Institute of Art (SIA) student Tomás Rivera, Contemporary Art curator Mara Alves and artist Rodolfo Villaplana hosted a private studio visit and networking event. The intention of the evening was to create dialogue between SIA students emerging in the art world and those further up the food chain who could offer advice to shape and expand our thinking. Rivera met Alves the week he moved to London for his Masters in Art Business. They hit it off in the confines of a private arts dinner and thus their friendship blossomed, as did a mentorship that has aided Rivera through his time at SIA. Alves has helped the likes of Rivera to navigate their way through the art world, acting as a point of reference and giving insight into the reality of collaborating with emerging artists, running a gallery and working in the age of the biennale.


Villaplana Studio
Image courtesy of Tomás Rivera

Mara Alves is a Lisbon-born Artist, Contemporary Art curator, advisor and mentor for artistic projects. Alves simultaneously manages and supports artists’ careers by presenting them to art collectors, investors and organizing exhibitions in London and abroad. For the past three years, Alves worked as chief curator and manager for a start-up gallery in Mayfair, D Contemporary, dealing mainly with emergent and mid-career artists. Alves discovered the work of Rodolfo Villaplana at the London Art Fair, 2015. She was clearly drawn to his art on impact and is now his agent and close friend. There is something very special about Alves, perhaps it is her natural inclination towards guiding new and impressionable art world figures, or her warmth and excitement when it comes to Villaplana’s art, or perhaps her maternal and sisterly relationship with Rivera that makes you yearn to have her on your side. Her knowledge and expertise is readily accessible and yours for the taking once you spark up conversation with her.


Rodolfo Villaplana is a figurative portrait artist with a passionate following that began in the UK and has spread across several European cities. Having been endorsed by the Young Masters 2013 panel, his success continues to move at an impressive pace. In 2014, Villaplana exhibited at the London Art Fair and PINTA International Art Fair in London. He participated in the Art Venice Biennale 3, 2015, and was given a solo show in MoMa Tbilisi which closed in January 2016. Additionally, Villaplana was chosen to represent the United Kingdom in the Iranian Biennale of Art, 2016. Villaplana exudes character, his permanent smile is genuine and his love for the subject is evident. It is such a treat to see him amongst two of his models. The rapport and relationship between them is enviable. Artist integrity is of the upmost importance to both him and Alves, he notes to those gathered that he refrains from using social media. An act which goes against the current move towards Instagram that we are seeing with many artists. Villaplanas’ personality is
conveyed in his emotive and varied works.


Villaplana has his studio in The Biscuit Factory, just back from Bermondsey tube in a rather unsuspecting location. You walk up flights of concrete stairs to find further cold, concrete corridors but a light and colourful glow transmits from each room you pass. Canvases sit stacked up against walls, whilst charcoal drawings lay strewn across the floor. It’s all very romantic.

Studio visit 2
Image courtesy of Tomás Rivera

The studio was packed full of lively debate and eager eyes with everyone discussing Villaplana’s works on show. His thematic and versatile technique produces works of varying subject matter but each with their own intimate appeal. The rich colours may be inspired by his time spent studying in Valencia. It is interesting to see a return to portraiture, as abstract art has become a go-to for contemporary artists, the portrait has become a rarity. A theme that interests Rodolfo Villaplana is that of the mirror. He relayed to us how people have abandoned it in place of their phone. He loves the way you can reflect a painting within a painting through the introduction of a mirror, as he demonstrates in The Supper. In particular, I was drawn to a reflective work which captured Villaplana in the shiny surface of a studio lamp. The self-portrait was minute in scale but beautifully painted with tenderness and care.


Villaplana explains that he can emotionally detach from his sitter, that he views them for what they are and paints what is before him. I would argue he does himself in an injustice by saying this. His loaded brushstrokes convey a wealth of vulnerability and unavoidable intimacy that only comes from a profound understanding of your model and their feelings. He is not interested in the prettiness of a painting, he will not succumb to commercial whims by matching his art to your curtains. It seems he will continue to work by his own means and if you don’t like it don’t buy it.


The networking project that Tomás Rivera, Mara Alves and Rodolfo Villaplana have undertaken has proven to be a success. It is undeniably hard to forge a path into the tightly knit circles of the art world and anyone who finds time to guide those beginning their journey are our own personal heroes.


Currently, Villaplana and Alves are preparing a solo exhibition of his work at MMOMA Moscow in 2019.
Written by Hattie Turner, current MA Art Business student at Sotheby’s Institute of Art.



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