Aerospace engineer engages the freestyle painter within

A solo exhibition at the Hallmark Galleries in La Jolla this weekend offers an opportunity for collectors and fans of modern art to explore this artist’s work.

An aerospace engineer by day, Joseph Vilella creates paintings and sculptures by night. Vibrant colors and geometric composition are two hallmarks of his style. A sense of optimism, playfulness and joi de vivre are infused in his creations, a positive energy that is one of the reasons his work is appealing, according to his fans.

“Modern art isn’t about the meaning, it’s about the feeling,” said Janice Ephron, an area collector and one of Vilella’s patrons. “His shapes, forms, the color - it swept me away.”

The two met by chance at a fund-raiser. A year later, Ephron has two of Vilella’s paintings and one of his sculptures in her collection. That puts Vilella in good company. Ephron and her late husband Eugene, a radiologist and gallery owner, assembled a collection that includes originals by Warhol, Rauschenberg and Picasso.

Ephron said her husband’s philosophy was collect the art you like, what you like to look at.

“It impacts me so much, I can’t even tell you,” she said of Vilella’s works. “It evokes so much emotion. The color, the shapes. It makes me feel so good. I feel that color and shape has found its destination in his work.”

The exhibition will feature more than 30 paintings and a handful of sculptures, some on loan from private owners. A limited number of reproductions will be available for purchase.

Vilella carefully manages exposure and availability of his pieces to enhance buyers’ investments. A number of pieces from his late wife’s personal collection will be on display during the show and then retired. Reproductions are limited to 50 or less and are one-third the size of the original piece.

Of Italian and Corsican descent, Vilella comes from a family of artisans. His maternal ancestors were noted wood carvers, and his father, a civil engineer, designed jewelry. In 1978, he started drawing with inks. He moved to acrylics about 10 years ago.

His paintings fall into one of three distinct styles, he said. His “fluid” pieces contain sweeping movement and streamers of color. The freestyle painting is a contrast to the technical detail of his geometric work.

The second category of his work is floating cubes.

Last is his geometric work, featuring sharp angles, spheres and multiple dimensions. The design of these pieces is technically demanding, but Vilella has the ability to create straight lines and perfect circles without any kind of drafting tool.

Some pieces contain a mix of all his styles.

Vibrant hues and rich colors are unfailingly a part of Vilella’s work, both sculptures and paintings. The shades he chooses reflect his spirituality, positive nature and enthusiasm, he said. Bright and energetic, the colors speak boldly and passionately about life and love and the world around him.

“I paint based on how I feel,” Vilella, a self-described eternal optimist, said.

Crafted from solid aluminum, Vilella’s sculptures are complex geometric expressions best viewed on a rotating surface to appreciate the nuances that change with viewpoint. The base and facets are made of aerospace-quality aluminum, the kind used for airplanes. The sculptures are painted with a multi-coating process Vilella developed himself. Each piece can take up to six weeks to complete and requires assistance from at least six people, he said.

Vilella works from a studio in his home in San Diego.

“I like to paint close to the person I love,” he said. “I’m not one of these people who goes off alone. I tried painting alone and it doesn’t work for me.”

The Art of Joseph Vilella opens Sept. 22 at Hallmark Galleries on Prospect Street. The show is open to the public Sept. 23 and 24. The gallery will show selected pieces throughout the month of October.

The exhibition was directed by Louarn Fleet-Schweitzer, a noted art collector. In a personal note to invited guests, she wrote, “Joseph’s works provide a sense of happiness and optimism that touches your soul and lightens your spirit.”

Vilella said it takes talent and luck to be recognized by people who know art and can judge work of significant value. He called Fleet-Schweitzer and Ephron his “patron angels.”

“I feel compelled to share it with other people,” Ephron said. “It’s important work and it needs to be out there. I know it will be a feast for the eyes.”

For more information about Vilella’s upcoming show, call Hallmark Galleries at (858) 551-8108. More information about the artist himself is available at