For Tony Ortega, art and teaching are a fertile symbiosis.
With more than 30 years working as an artist and teacher, Ortega’s work is recognized for its vibrant and colorful strokes.
“My long experience in the artworld and as an artist has helped me in my teaching,” he said in an interview with Shoutout Colorado. “I feel I can bring real-world examples/experiences in development of the courses I teach and how engagement and challenge my students. The opposite is also true. I learn from my students and they also challenge me.”
A native of New Mexico, born in 1954, Ortega is one of the best-known artists in Colorado, where he now resides, and in the country.
Ortega holds a master’s degree in drawing and painting from the University of Colorado and currently teaches at Regis University. He is the recipient of the coveted Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (1999) and the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (1998). His lifelong goal is to better understand cultural diversity by addressing Chicano/Latino culture, history, and experiences through his art.
“I wake up every morning in Northwest Denver, I physically, emotionally and spiritually live between the clash of two cultures-one Mexican and the American,” Ortega explained in the same interview. “This is my daily dilemma. I have to cross an imaginary border-not the Mexican and U.S border created for the separation of two nation-states, but the border between two cultures.”
Through his art, Tony Ortega tries to express, in a sort of cathartic evacuation, his identity, culture, traditions and geographic origin.
“I live between the clash of two cultures-one Mexican and the American. By merging iconic Mexican and American iconography in my art, I show that my journey is not unique.”
His language merges iconic Mexican and American iconography and serves as a testament to a metaphysical journey: that of the immigrant.
“I make art that merges abstraction and realism. My work combines flat space with cubical space to form new ambiguous spaces. I combine vertical and horizontal elements to produce a solid, confident, and orderly sense of structure. This allows me to juxtapose and superimpose unlikely images, symbols, and words. These unexpected combinations encourage creating opportunities to bend meaning and warp a sense of time and place. By creating art, I can address the differences in my world, forming a new and more accurate outlook of my personal and cultural identity.”
Immigration, assimilation, and cultural hybridity have been recurring reflections of Tony Ortega, whose works can be found at the Denver Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum, the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, and the William Havu Gallery.
His most recent exhibition is “Magia Chicana,” a selection of 15 pieces that will line the walls of the Loveland Museum’s Green Room Gallery between July 24 and November 13.
The exhibition will feature pieces that mix Mexican and American iconography, with nods to pop art, feminism, and contestation.
“With creating art, I can address the differences in my world, forming a new and more accurate outlook of my personal and cultural identity,” Ortega told the Daily Camera.
“Often, I combine contemporary issues with art historical references,” Ortega said. “In my print ‘Mexican Gothic,’ I place two well-known Mexican artists and activists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, in a Grant Wood painting. With this image, I hope to show that Mexican-Americans/mestizos that our presence in the United States has a long history, even longer than the existence of the United States as a nation.”