Loud can no longer be connected only to the volume of your mother’s voice when she catches you acting up or the complaint your neighbor gives when you’re blasting your music so high people from the world over can hear. In a not-so-subtle ode to the very music he himself bumps, Milwaukee-raised artist Adam Villegas heads his own T-shirt company, LOUD a platform to express his artistic creations.
LOUD, which stands for Living Out Unreal Dreams, was born years earlier when, as a young high school student, Villegas was involved in the PEOPLE Program — a scholarship program that brings minority and low-income students from all over Wisconsin to UW’s Madison campus to get a UW experience and encourage the path to college. In this experience, he made lifelong friends, got into UW-Madison with a scholarship, and most importantly found a passion for screen-printing, something to which he may never have been exposed. It was in an art internship where he says he came to life and found a new way of expressing himself, reminding us all how vital it is that programs like PEOPLE exist. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Villegas and ask a few questions about his path to this incredible endeavor.
Madison365: What inspires your artistic creations?
Adam Villegas: One of my biggest inspirations and influences is a lot of the music I listen to. I’m really into lyrics and what the person is saying. They say a picture can paint a thousand words but I listen to all these thousands of millions of words and always have these different pictures being formed in my head…Oftentimes, I try to take what they are saying and relate it back to my own life and my own experiences and try to make a connection between the two in some kind of visual way.
Madison365: What kind of music inspires you most?
Adam Villegas: Mostly its hip hop rap music including a lot of old school, too. That’s one thing I love about music: listening to some of my favorite current songs and finding the samples [from the old songs]. I love beats and everything like that … its always the best when I find one of my favorite songs and I love the sample and I go back and listen to the sample song. I like it just as much and sometimes even more. It’s a fun process finding old music off of new music and new music off of old music.
Madison365: How was it working for PEOPLE as an instructor for the Screen-Printing Class?
Adam Villegas: This was my second summer teaching for the program. I was interested right away because PEOPLE program was where I first learned myself. So I was privileged and honored to be able to take what PEOPLE program helped inspire in me and what shaped my college career and go to these students and say, ‘Hey I was once in your shoes and when I was in PEOPLE program I fell in love with screen-printing throughout my college career and I stuck with it.’ and it was cool to be able to tell them I just graduated from UW with this degree in art and that I was also starting my own T-shirt company which is based off of my screen-printing. It was cool to have it come full circle. I hopefully was inspiring to them.
Madison365: Does this position as an instructor something you see yourself continuing to do? Is that something important to you?
Adam Villegas:I want to continue teaching people. Friends randomly hit me up and say ‘Hey, I want to learn how to do that.’ It’s cool to have a skill that I can help pass on to the community and help the community grow in their art. I see myself teaching in the future. I don’t really see myself sitting down and teaching right now. I’m still young and have a lot to explore. With that said, I’d like that [teaching] to take me to different communities, to be able to travel and teach people. One of my mentors, John Hitchcock, he was my screen-printing instructor for about 2 1/2 years and I was his lab assistant for about 2 years. It’s been incredible to see him make a living, be an artist, travel around screen-printing at different universities across the US and even overseas, just continuing his art making process. It’s so inspiring!
Madison365: Tell me about LOUD.
Adam Villegas: LOUD is my t-shirt company. It stands for Living Out Unreal Dreams. Since that first summer I learned how to screen-print, I’ve had this dream of creating my own t-shirt company. My senior year of high school I was just drawing designs and I didn’t have a name for anything and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I knew I wanted the t-shirt company. Then, I got to college and I got thrown off from that dream for awhile. But, eventually, I got back into a screen-printing class. The first project I stuck to the rules and printed on paper but the second we were supposed to create a band poster. Since most of my artwork was based off music I was like, ‘Hey, let me create a shirt for Currency and the Jets, one of my favorite artists … so I just made a shirt from that project and ever since then I’ve been printing on t-shirts.
Madison365: How did you come up with the name LOUD?
Adam Villegas: It was kind of random how it all came together. I was in Milwaukee when I was trying to think of a name and I really wanted it to be about dreaming. Two of my favorite musicians at the time were Kid Cudi and Kanye West. Kid Cudi had his label ‘Dream On’ and Kanye West had his label ‘getting out our dreams’ so I think that was a big one. The LOUD acronym just clicked. That’s the thing, too, very on at the beginning, I wasn’t just interested in just making another t-shirt company, I really wanted to sell pieces of art that I was selling on this clothing.
I’ve come a long way. I used to just do that for fun. It wasn’t a real t-shirt company. Last August or September I took the step to make my dream into a reality by creating LOUD LLC. So my t-shirt company is a registered, recognized business by the state of Wisconsin. So I’m legit now.
Madison365: How does your personal art influence LOUD and does it have any political influences?
Adam Villegas: A lot of my own personal art, my paintings while I was at UW, was focused on being a minority on a predominantly white campus. A lot of it dealt with racism, saggism — hatred I would get and random bullshit for me sagging my pants and then rappism — people hating on me for listening to loud rap music. I kind of made this little series on racism rappism and saggism. As minority, as a Mexican American, as a Chicano from Milwaukee, I grew up on the south side where its predominantly Mexican. Even just going to school on the north side which is predominantly Black my whole life was mostly around minorities really. So to come to this predominantly white environment was a bit of culture shock coming to see no one dressing like me nobody sagging their pants like me. If I did see them they would not be students. I definitely felt out of place, outside and inside the classroom, especially as an artist.
There would be a couple times where I’ve had professors assume I felt this way or assumed I wanted to do this because of how I looked and how I dressed. I tried to call attention to that … especially the subtle racism. No one ever stands up like ‘ hey what you said is kind of [explicit] up’ no one is going to say that to professors. Its kind of a shitty environment to be stuck in but at the same time I really like that I can take from these experiences and make artwork that deals with the subject. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t see the light of day that needs to be exposed.
I do feel a responsibility as an artist to talk about these subjects; issues that people don’t necessarily talk about or are kind of afraid to talk about. I feel like as an artist I need to use my platform to really get this message to a wider audience and really put it on display. The funny thing is you see the white privilege and how they don’t understand or they don’t seem to know that they’re in the wrong and really make me feel alienated or like an alien. Yeah it’s very liberal but at the same time as a minority you always have to be aware of your surroundings. It’s a nice place if you have a nice group of friends it helped me find these support groups, which I held onto such as Latinos Men Group and MECHA; two organizations that really helped me find a sense of community a sense of minorities. It helped with me dealing with the racism and feeling out of place. A lot of those people that I made friends with are still good friends of mine today.
Madison365: Getting back to LOUD, where do you hope for it to go?
Adam Villegas: One of my unreal dreams that I’d like to live out is working for artists/musicians on their cover art or just single artwork designing merchandise for them: T-shirts, everything. A lot of the LOUD T-shirts are based off of musicians’ specific lyrics. I want to get that back to them and let them see how they influence me. I’ve been going to meet ‘n’ greets with artists after their concerts to try to connect with them. At the School Boy Q meet ‘n’ greet, one of his songs Hands On The Wheel ft. A$AP Rocky influenced one of the shirts I made so I printed them up a shirt of the design and I was wearing the shirt when I did the meet ‘n’ greet. Usually with those things they just nod at fans and I was putting my shirts on the table and his security was blocking me but he was like wait hold on. He took the shirts. That was real cool.
Chance the rapper will be coming to Milwaukee and I have a shirt based off of his lyrics. Its called Everything’s Good and the lyric is ‘but I knew I was fly when I was just a caterpillar.’ Also random influences besides music are cartoons. Around the time I was thinking about this design for the shirt, to put it together I had the lyric; I had the inspiration I just didn’t know how to create it. Randomly, I started watching Pokémon on Netflix. About the third episode in is with the Caterpree looking up wishing he was a Butterfree and he had a twinkle in his eye and Butterfree was flying past dropping the little powdery dust stuff and I was like that’s the shirt right there in motion. It’s just cool to connect these little things; different aspects of my life that influence me and have a big impact. For the future, one of my goals is to be your favorite artist/rapper’s artist that they love and hang on their wall. I don’t want to be in museums. I want to be in rapper’s houses.
If you would like to check out or purchase any of Adam Villegas’ work please visit his site at www.livingoutunrealdreams.com.