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Jose Villarrubia

For me, my MICA education was invaluable and has served me well throughout my career, especially because I have changed mediums several times. 

Nearly three decades after he first arrived as a student at MICA, world-renowned comic book colorist, illustrator, and photographer José Villarrubia has been the chair of the Illustration Department, the largest major at MICA, since 2010.

Villarrubia, a 1983 general fine arts graduate with an MFA in Painting from Towson University, began teaching in the department in 1998, was interim chair in fall 2007 and department coordinator during spring 2010. Rather than make drastic changes in his new position, he's built on the existing program and further developed the curriculum and courses.

"I expect to facilitate a greater integration of the Illustration Department with the rest of the MICA community, to allow more students from other majors to take our courses and vice-versa," he said. He added that he plans to implement courses that would cross into other departments, much like a workshop he'd organized with Manuel Albarrán, a Spanish-born artist who specializes in wearable metal art. Two dozen students from eight different majors participated.

"Illustration is the art of visual storytelling and graphic narrative," he said. "I think that students interested in creating stories with their pictures can greatly benefit from taking illustration classes." Villarrubia had made a name for himself in the 1980s and '90s as a fine art photographer and a part of the then-emerging LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) arts scene in New York, though illustration remained one of his passions.

"Like all children, I read illustrated books and comics, pored over encyclopedias filled with animals and natural wonders, and loved all kinds of printed visual stimuli for as long as I can remember," he said. "As a child I drew constantly."

Despite spending time in the New York galleries, Villarrubia has always lived in Baltimore, a city he has long felt a passion for. In 1998, he returned to his alma mater in the heart of Charm City and began teaching students what he considers to be the fundamentals needed to be successful in today's art world.

"By coming to a school like MICA, you have an opportunity to get a well-rounded education in becoming an artist, not just a specialist in a specific market, and you also have the opportunity to explore different areas of art and find your own identity and voice as a creative individual," he said. "For me, my MICA education was invaluable and has served me well throughout my career, especially because I have changed mediums several times."

As chair of the department, Villarrubia teaches two classes a semester. He has spent the past decade teaching core classes and a variety of electives.