Artist Tony Ortega lives and works in Colorado, but his roots are here in Northern New Mexico. "My mother's side of the family is from Pecos, my father's side of the family is from Colonias and I was born in Santa Fe and went to school in Denver," Ortega said. "Once I finished art school in Denver, I began traveling again to Taos to visit family and friends and to exhibit my artwork."
Ortega returns to Taos on Friday (March 1) for a meet-the-artist event to celebrate the opening of "Doble Sentido," an exhibition of his work at the Harwood Museum of Art's Studio 238. The reception is from 4 to 6 p.m., with an artist talk at 4:30 p.m.
"The Harwood is pleased to present artist, painter and teacher Tony Ortega for the first Studio 238 exhibition of 2019," said Harwood exhibitions curator J. Matt Thomas. "Ortega will exhibit a selection of hand-colored etchings that speak to immigration, migration, cultural appropriation and an intercultural dialogue. He creates artwork by combining digital technology with traditional painting techniques. Both the practices of printing and working in Adobe Photoshop involve working in layers. He uses Adobe Photoshop to merge a variety of appropriated images into new hybrid compositions. With the results of these varied hybrid images, he creates matrices that become the print portion of the compositions and he hand-colors them with watercolor paint. I'm excited to share this artist with the Taos community. He is a very vocal advocate for the Chicano community."
Hybridity is a process
"My art reflects a cultural and historical confluence, or hybridity," Ortega said. "For me, hybridity is a process that crosses two separate cultures. It is a constant process of negotiation between different cultural groups, a form of intercultural dialogue. Hybridity can be viewed as the space where communication between cultures takes place. The most comprehensive prints I have created during the past few years have been images addressing cultural hybridity.
"As a Chicano artist, my identity, as well as my cultural and geographic backgrounds, are integral in my art. For me, and for numerous Chicano artists, our experiences and our cultural hybridity are the foundation of our artwork, as we address the distinctions between the worlds we experience and how they combine to form our identity. With art, I can address the differences in my world, forming a new and more accurate personal and cultural identity."
He emphasizes that "distortion and exaggeration for emotional effect" are significant in his art. "I apply vivid and dynamic color, overlapping transparent color with opaque color, and combining flat space with cubical space. I interweave Western concepts of perspective, light/shadow and overlapping of shapes with the indigenous folk art design of simplified geometric shapes, brilliant pastel colors and inviting temperatures, thereby creating a harmonious composition. I merge abstraction, simplification and realism, juxtaposing and superimposing unlikely images from American and Mexican cultures that include realism, icons, symbols, humor and fantasy, art history and the contemporary world. This technique fosters opportunities for the bending of meaning."
Ortega holds a master of fine arts degree in drawing and painting from the University of Colorado, and now teaches at Regis University, in Denver. He has been a working artist and teacher for the past 36 years and is known for his vibrant, colorful artwork. His work can be found in the Denver Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He has also exhibited extensively in Latin America and other parts of the world.
Here in Taos, his work has graced venues including 203 Fine Art, the Stables Art Gallery, Millicent Rogers Museum, El Taller and the Dos Lunas Gallery. His work can be seen at Greg Moon Art Gallery and Studio on 109 Kit Carson Road.
"The appeal of Tony's work for me is in its humor, and in the universality of his subject matter," said artist and gallery owner Greg Moon. "When you take something as recognizable as Superman or Mickey Mouse and represent them in a quirky manner, you open up possibilities and break down barriers to discussion. This approach helps to allow for the exploration of issues without the handicap of personal biases -- opening a dialogue that can lead to more empathy and a better understanding of these issues that affect and interconnect us all. Besides, you can tell when an artist is enjoying what they're creating. That's infectious."
Ortega said he enjoys his time in New Mexico. "It reminds me of my childhood, my family and, most importantly, my time with my late grandmother. As a child, during the summers I traveled between Denver, Santa Fe and Pecos with my maternal grandmother, who educated and grounded me in culture, traditions and a sense of place. These travels also made me aware of being a bilingual, bi-cultural person. She helped me define and understand my personal and cultural identity."
Asked what visitors to the exhibit can expect, Ortega said, "I hope my artwork puts a smile on their face, but also that they become aware that the etchings are layered in meaning. Hopefully they will see the overlapping layers or juxtaposition of cultures, traditions, social commentary and political commentary, and walk away with a new or different view of what it means to be a Chicano."