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Artist donates 18-foot-wide painting to York College as a gift to his alma mater

August 18, 2020
Ivan with his painting in Grantley Hall

This summer, Ivan Villalba ’85 donated a 5-foot-tall, 18-foot-wide painting titled Echte Welt 2020 (Real World 2020) to York College of Pennsylvania. While the original theme was Globalization prior to the pandemic, the piece evolved during the wake of COVID-19. Villalba stayed true to his style and delivered an abstract work that can now be found in Grantley Hall.

Finding his footing in the arts

Villalba decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Marketing at York College, where he saw a potential career opportunity for his creative abilities. He cannot recall if the College offered an art degree or courses back when he attended during the 1980s. “I was fortunate to have studied marketing that taught me fundamentals that I apply today,” he says. That was before the internet, email, cell phones, and technological evolution. York College today offers a Fine Arts major up to a multidisciplinary Master of Arts in Leadership.

As a child, Villalba says, he often was asked to provide art for his schools. It wasn’t often that people were encouraged to pursue art as a career in those days, he says, but he’s grateful for those in his life who enjoyed his art and encouraged him to keep up the practice. While attending York College, Villalba was a member of the Marine Corps Reserves in Harrisburg and after graduating from York College, he continued in the military as a Marine officer. It was in the 1990s after his honorable discharge that he picked up his paintbrush and pursued commissioned work opportunities. Finally, he says, he found his way back to the canvas.

Giving back to York College

Now, living in Louisville, Kentucky, Villalba runs Ivann LLC. During summer 2019, he contacted York College and offered to create a custom painting. Glenn Miller, Senior Director of Philanthropy at York College, had several conversations with Villalba to determine the theme, the size, and future placement of the art. “A gift like this is important on several levels,” Miller says. “It beautifies the campus, it lifts up and celebrates the gifts and success of an outstanding alumnus, and it makes a declaration of the College's commitment to the arts.” With York College becoming an internationally renowned institution, the theme was selected to be Globalization with all its pre-pandemic virtues. Villalba, having the background to provide the art including an MBA in International Business from the University of Miami, and having travelled extensively internationally for corporations, felt well versed for the task.

Just as he acquired all of his supplies for the project including a specialized frame and canvas from Canada, in late March Villalba was impacted and became sick with COVID-19. He went to the doctor and was prescribed antibiotics for pneumonia, but he would later test positive for the coronavirus. While Villalba was able to avoid hospitalization, he says, it was impossible for him to paint. It wasn’t until the first week of May that he felt well enough to pick up his brush. On July 28, 2020, the completed painting was installed in Grantley Hall. Even though Villalba is unsure if his illness influenced the work, his wife Dana says, “It definitely did. His original plan was different to the completed painting.” He never intended the painting to be about himself, but it is an impression from an artist that was impacted by the virus.

“I hope that anyone who walks by the painting, who stops to view it, or routinely goes by, can take whatever they need from it as art is intended to be,” he says. “That’s my gift. And I’m grateful that the College was so open to receiving it. The beauty of having the ability of merging art and marketing is the primary skill I learned at York College.” This became apparent while Villalba was standing outside Grantley Hall looking across the soccer field toward the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center that did not exist when he was a student. It had been 35 years since he and his wife had returned to campus. “I had a wow moment and was enlightened [that] York College of Pennsylvania had grown to become a premier, first-choice global institution. I felt, with my wife beside me, the school and our family grew together. Everything made sense."