All Hail the Pumpkin King

Ray Villafane. Pumpkins that look photo shopped. October Facebook feeds full of nothing but his amazing art. Are you with me yet? That’s right, I got a chance to talk to the gourd god at Phoenix Comicon. As you can probably tell from our Facebook feed on Land of the Nerds, the Knave with the knife was in Phoenix showing off his skills, selling his wares, and giving free demonstrations to all those who were wizardly wise enough to attend his Pumpkin panels and purloin his professional practices(Enough with the alliteration).

The Pumpkin King
The Pumpkin King

 

Ray is an amazing man with a lot to show in such a small space. We talked about his initial sculpts as an art teacher. We discussed his first couple pumpkins as free and a hobby and as challenges from his students. We of course talked about how parents in the hospitality and restaurant industries began sending the students to make something for their hotel/restaurant until Ray realized he was getting students bringing in a lot of pumpkins.

He now has roughly a list of fifty people he has worked with for projects all over the world. He says he makes stuff year round. He informed me how expensive a pumpkin is in the off season.  Off season pumpkins have to be flown in from Australia and the price was higher than I would have thought originally. He is already personally scheduled for the entire 2015 Halloween season, as he flies all over to manage all the projects, but that other contracts can still be booked. He also warned that even the small workshop projects are not cheap. Like all good quality art, you get what you pay for. The time, the skill, the exclusivity, the non-repetition of previous works, it all adds up to a very unique product.

One of the highlights of the booth was a simple pumpkin head sleeping. It was in a box and Villafane had to put a sign on it saying ,”Don’t tap the glass”. It was a pickled pumpkin (I have waiting to type that).While not initially impressive in light of his other amazing accomplishments, which is like saying DaVinci’s sketches aren’t as impressive as his fully rendered and finished paintings and portraits, it stood out for several reasons. All of these reasons are excellent on their own.

Sleeping Pumpkin
Sleeping Pumpkin

First, it had been pickled. The pickling had softened some of the features, causing a softening of the finer details Ray admitted he had put in the sculpture. This softening made a subtle tranquility appear that may(or may not) have been evident in the initial sculpt. This makes me wonder if the softening might become a purposeful inclusion in beauty sculpts and dreamscape builds and how that might really make more “pop” occur. I imagine pumpkin dresses flowing in vinegar as buoyant help and support of the gourd cuts. I can realistically expect the increase of the haziness and miasma to be used to make the dreaminess of characters come alive.

Secondly, the detail that was there had been softened by the preservative medium meaning it had been much further detailed beyond what we were seeing at the convention. Oh what intricacies had we lost!? If the pumpkin looked this good post-pickling, then how detailed had the gourd been before the swelling of the vinegar-infusion and subsequent change in texture? I will never know as Ray had no pre-vinegar pictures to show me.

Third, this was the first of Villafane’s sculpts that he had attempted to pickle in order to test the viability of pickling on a pumpkin sculpture. He pickled this one in November 2014 and it held up all the way to Phoenix Comicon 2015 in late May. It seems odd that the master of carving pumpkins would not think to pickle until this late in his career, but I tend to disagree.

close up image of the face
close up image of the face

There is a show called Fraggle Rock. In it, there is a race of builders called Doozers who build edible skyscrapers made of turnips. However they face the problem of the Fraggle main characters eating some of their constructions. Instead of this creating a conflict, the Doozers incorporate the eating into open spaces for more intricate ideas and the chance for new drawings.

Fraggles Eat Doozer Creations
Fraggles Eat Doozer Creations

Then, there are the monks in Tibet. They create lovely and complex mandalas of sand, only to  deconstruct it once it is finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.

Constructing an Mandala
Constructing an Mandala

Much like the Doozers and the sand mandalas of Tibetan monks, part of what makes Villafane’s art so valuable and beautiful, a is their impermanence.  I include the horrorscapes and terrors he forms from the gashed gourds as well, because the grotesque can be gorgeous. That here-today-gone-tomorrow aspect with nothing but photography and memories makes the statues a rarity. Nobody gets to claim that they have a Ray Villafane statue because (except for the sleeping test subject in the box) Villafane statues can’t be kept. The art, like the artist attains a higher value because if you were there, like Woodstock, you were there when it, being the statue or the carving happened. And then it is gone and like Phoenix Comic-Con or the next season of Orange is the New Black, you wait all year or however long it takes….to see it again and be amazed.

Just a handful of work from Villafane Studios
Just a handful of work from Villafane Studios

Ray also proceeded to show that his pumpkin skills are not his only medium. Ray produced some figurines he had done, showing the steps and architecture for Blizzard (Raynor was awesomely crafted) and for other figures. There was a highly detailed Predator and a Worgen and…I think I remember a Protoss in the back. There were others as well I have forgotten.

Ray talked about how his art school training was supposed to lead to education and a low paying but highly rewarding job for a few students and now through art shows and massive builds, he had the ability and potential to teach so many more and raise the bar. We talked about how he willingly teaches his skills and tries new ideas, some more effective like the pickling than others he omitted, in order to always push himself to stay at the top of his game. This means that the push to realize art is enforced by one of the top names in visual large scale quality. And I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

To learn more about Villifane’s work, check out his website at http://villafanestudios.com/

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