Sports Artist Armando Villarreal – a Nebraska Story


♪ MUSIC ♪ ♪ MUSIC ♪ ♪ MUSIC ♪ ARMANDO VILLARREAL: What’s it
like to be a sports artist? (Air brush painting) Sometimes it’s a real
love for it and sometimes it’s a
real hate for it. I just kind of depends how
the art work is going. (Dabbing paint) As long as I can remember
that’s what I wanted to be. NARRATOR: From Muhammad
Ali to Derek Jeter, Armando Villarreal
has been commissioned to paint some of America’s most
iconic athletes. His paintings hang in galleries
and private collections around the world… a long way from his start in
Imperial Nebraska. ARMANDO: The first thing I ever
remember doing would have been the Dallas Cowboys
in I think first grade. When I was in the third
grade I had another football drawing
in crayons. That one made it
to the state art show so they made
a big deal about it. There was a lot of stuff
I painted but sports art, there’s just
something about it. NARRATOR: Growing up in
Imperial, Armando never
had a strong art influence until he had Mr.
Haneline as an art teacher. DIK HANELINE: He was a high
school kid, there’s no doubt about it. They come in with the fire
lit and the passion and accomplish a tremendous
amount of work in his imagery and the next time
you’d see him there’d be the possibility that “all
I’m just not in the mood today” kind of the typical
artist roller coaster. So trying to motivate him was probably
the biggest obstacle. ARMANDO: I was not
the best art student. I’ll be the first to admit
that but I listened. I didn’t exactly
pay attention. I think that was probably
the only “F” I got in high
school was in art class. But Haneline was always the guy that said reach for the stars, you can always take the moon. There’s something
about you that you can do it and granted, he probably told
all of his kids that. HANELINE: What I wanted
him to do was to realize that if he’s looking to
the stars, something distant and he encounters
the moon on the way, seize the moment and then
reassess from there and move forward. NARRATOR: Although
Haneline gave Armando the push he need to chase
his dream, Armando’s father took a more
realistic approach. ARMANDO: Dad says that
basically I was stubborn he told me that art would
be a good hobby but I’d never make
a living at it. It’s pretty sound fatherly
advice for anybody else. Because seriously who
makes a living as an artist? BEN VILLARREAL: You know
if you want him to do something, you tell
him the opposite. I don’t want you to do
this, he would do it. ARMANDO: There’s probably
a little bit of truth to that (Laughter) BEN VILLARREAL: So you
kinda had to do that and yet, he wasn’t where
he needed to be. So I had to give him, you know,
you’re gonna have to either get better at this or you’re gonna
have to go find a real job. ARMANDO: Whether he was
using some reverse psychology on me or not,
I’m not sure but it was good
motivation either way. BEN VILLARREAL: And
it could have gone either way. You know, he could have
said well, dad’s right, I’ll never be an artist,
so I will find a real job. ♪ MUSIC ♪ ARMANDO: We made a go at
the wildlife art and all that stuff for a while it
was so hard to make money at it cause there was so
much wildlife art and I was an unknown kid from
Imperial, Nebraska. NARRATOR: Armando went
“All-in” and moved to Florida. After bouncing around and
picking up odd jobs for a while, Armando found a job
in California painting custom motorcycles. Even though he painted
award winning bikes, Armando could see the effects
the recession had on the shop. ARMANDO: I could kind of
see the writing on the wall that stuff wasn’t
going very well at the shop so I just got on line
and started looking for a job on Craig’s List and
there was a sports artist. I was, well
that’d be perfect. So I clicked on it and I read
it and it says to e-mail Sally. SALLY WALSH: The journey to find
Armando was a really long journey and sometimes
it was really daunting journey. I actually looked
at over 600 artists’ work and at one point, I got
it down to around about 200. ARMANDO: She sent out
a mass e-mail to 14 artists. We went through
500-600 artist and we’ve picked you 14 to
be the finalist. So I started going through
these names and there’s guys that are like
professional, really well-known sports artist. I didn’t hear much about
it for a couple of days and then she writes me
back and says, can we meet? (Paper crumpling) SALLY: I knew as soon as
I met Mando that this was definitely gonna
be a great choice. ARMANDO: What I want to
do is take you to a place that brings out the
emotion out of the viewer. I want you to feel like
you’re maybe in the batter’s box or that
you’re an outside linebacker. Like you’re part
of the game. I can’t think of much else
to paint that’s harder than sports art but that’s
part of why I like it so much is the challenge. They’re washed out from
all the reflections and the light and then
you’re throwing portrait art on top of that it’s not like
I’m painting a duck. When you’re painting a
mallard duck it’s just got to have a green head and
that’s a mallard duck. When you’re painting David
Ortiz it has to look like David Ortiz, there’s
no leeway there. SALLY: Armando Villarreal is the
foremost sports artist of his generation because
there’s-it’s simply fact. There just isn’t somebody
of his generation so young that has accomplished
that many paintings. His paintings now hang
in museums or in very important
private collections. ARMANDO: You know, that’s
not really my thing to judge. I don’t see it as I am. Like I said, I feel like I
still have so much more to learn and so much-so many
things to accomplish that just, once again, seems
a little premature to be throwing something
out like that. DIK HANELINE: Though he
might just be looking at landing on the moon now, he still realizes he’s
got to go to the stars. ARMANDO:
The way I see it, my next
painting’s my best painting. So
as long as I have that mindset, I’m fine with where I’m at,
cause it will always get better and when I get
to the point where that’s my best painting,
then I can quit.

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