By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
It’s been awhile since Chase County residents have been able to see Imperial native Armando Villarreal’s artwork. From now until March 6, a variety of his creations are being displayed at First Bank & Trust in Imperial.
The bank lobby is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.
Villarreal, who was recently featured on NET’s Nebraska Stories, has about 25 paintings and prints on display, ranging from his early Habitat stamp prints, to his military prints, to a myriad of sports paintings on which he is now focusing.
As a Chase County High School Class of ‘95 graduate, Villarreal was influenced by art teacher Dick Haneline. He was also named the Nebraska Wildlife Federation Artist of the Year for four years.
Art was in his future, but a few other things came first.
Villarreal served in the Army National Guard, seeing action in Kuwait, Iraq and Kosovo.
He married Lora Rowley of Imperial in 2005, and also attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring in fine arts.
In 2008, the couple moved to Florida, where Villarreal began detailing motorcycles and cars. The next year they moved to California, where he again detailed motorcycles and cars.
In 2010, Villarreal found an advertisement on Craigs List for persons interested in sports art. Along with many others, he applied to become an artist with Victory Fine Arts, and was chosen after a lengthy process.
For a few months he worked part-time for Victory Fine Arts.
“I did a couple of paintings and they went over real well,” he remembers. He was offered a salary and quit his detailing job.
That first year Villarreal produced 47 sports paintings.
“Since then I haven’t counted,” he said. Those on display at First Bank & Trust “are only a fraction of what I’ve done.”
Villarreal works mainly with an airbrush, first taping off the sections he’s painting. He uses a paint brush for some detailing, such as outlining letters on a jersey.
He used the same process to create a longhorn on the Chase County Schools high school gym floor.
By the spring of 2013 the Villarreals had two sons, Jackson, who is almost five, and Ben, who is two.
They were still delivering paintings to Victory at Venice, Calif., a four-hour drive.
When they began shipping the paintings instead, the couple decided they could do that from Imperial, and moved back in March.
“We decided to move back at least for awhile so their grandparents could know them,” he said of his sons. “We might end up here, we might not.”
Villarreal’s goal had been to make a living as an artist. Now it’s to create official pieces for the big sports, such as his San Francisco Giants World Series piece.
“Eventually I want to be the sports artist,” he emphasized, “and I’m getting there pretty quick.”
The art director for Victory Fine Arts, Sally Walsh, calls Villarreal “the foremost sports artist of his generation.”
There are also new opportunities in the works as his company affiliates with other organizations to represent famous people such as Marilyn Monroe.
“More and more stuff keeps coming up,” he smiled.