Our friend the artist– Joao Villegas: his art and his philosophy

“You have to take a picture in your head of what you want to do and make it come to life.” I clicked photos of the sand art while Joao told Shane the story behind it.

We ran into Santiago-born Joao while walking along the Acapulco section of the beach in Viña del Mar, just a few metro stops away from where we were staying in Valparaíso. We were enjoying a long walk along the boardwalk and found the old crane, built in 1910 for loading and unloading boats when Viña del Mar was one of South America’s first major ports.

When we found the crane, we also found the sand art. And when we found the sand art, we met the artist, Joao.

After having lived in Reno, Nevada, for a total of ten years, Joao told us that “the reason I came back to Chile is because I wanted to live in the moment… I got the idea in my head to come back and couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Joao has been thinking about an adventure in Brazil and decided to make it happen by making art in Viña del Mar. He has been set up on the boardwalk already for more than two years, and he plans to stay set up there until March 2012.

The coin donations from passersby are the sole source of funding for the Brazil adventure.

I need to make sure you understand exactly what is going on here and what sand sculpture exactly entails. What happens after endless hours of putting together the white rabbit in his waistcoat with pocket watch? Does the artist pack up after a long day and leave his creation to be decimated by nighttime hooligans?

I don’t know any artist who would subject his precious work to such defamation. Joao certainly wouldn’t. So he lives on the boardwalk.


That boardwalk (did someone say beachfront?) is his art studio, his kitchen, his bedroom, his living room. He has a tent he sets up at night right next to his sculptures with the flap open, so that he can keep a lookout.

More than two years already.

He has made a friend near to the boardwalk that lets him come in and out to use the bathroom and shower.

Also worth mentioning is that sand artists tend to work in twos. There is a guy Koke (koh-kaye), whom we did not have the pleasure to meet, who apparently works with Joao so that they can take time to go shop for food and not leave the sculptures unattended. They collaborated together on the dolphin sculptures.

Did I mention yet that Joao’s buddy Koke has been on the boardwalk ten years?!

Joao uses regular sand, white salt, and black and red sand in his sand sculptures. The black and red sand comes from the dunes in Concón, further up the beach in the next town. You can see the white salt on the rabbit’s face.

I definitely recommend a visit to meet Joao in Viña del Mar. You’ll meet an artist who is really in love with his craft and really in love with his dream. You’ll meet someone who’s dedicated and tireless. He’s walking proof that sometimes you need to go to extreme lengths to make your dreams come true. My favorite part of Joao’s story, though, is the part where he said he just knew that he had to come back to Chile. People generally spend a lot of time perseverating, weighing pros and cons, making up lists of “if” and “then.” People like Joao are the carpe diem sort. They don’t waste any time. They have a dream, and they do whatever it takes to make it happen. Like Joao said, all you have to do is make a picture in your head of what you want, and then do whatever it takes to make it happen.

P.S. On top of everything else, Joao is bilingual (Spanish and English, having gone to high school in USA), and he’s overall a super-nice guy, engaging, easy to talk to.

I hope the Brazil adventure is everything he hoped for and more.

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  1. An afternoon stroll in Viña del Mar « 256 Days in a Pickup Truck - January 15, 2012

    […] For my last post about our time in Chile, I want to tell you a little bit more about the area of town where we met the sand sculpture artist Joao Villegas. […]

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