#67: Tony Ortega
A familiar figure in the local Chicano arts community for decades, Tony Ortega is well known for his colorful scenes from the lives of faceless ordinary people. More recently, he’s added humor and satirizes pop-culture images in his repertoire. You can see his visual commentaries in a commercial setting at William Havu Gallery and at street level at community galleries like the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council. Still going strong after all these years, Ortega remains a vital force, as you’ll discover from his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Tony Ortega: People, family, friends, colleagues, students, community, my surroundings, identity, culture, traditions and life give me my creative muse. Creating is like breathing and eating. It sustains me.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
President Barack Obama. He seems like a good, educated person to sit down with and have a beer or glass of wine and have a wonderful conversation with.
Edward Hopper. He inspired my early artwork. He understood the context of his time and painting it. I would like to hear him talk about his work.
My grandmother Trinidad Segura Ortega. She passed away 22 years ago. It would be nice to see her, hug her and have a good long talk.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Denver has a very vibrant art community! Artists, nonprofit and commercial galleries, nonprofit art organizations, arts districts, etc. I like the diversity (young/old, ethnic) in the art community and the opportunities it gives artists, people, students and families.
What made you pick up a paintbrush in the first place?
My grandmother was important during my childhood in me becoming an artist. When I was about four, five and six years old, she created quilts and clothes and did alterations. I was with her, and I, too, wanted to make things with my hands.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I just like being a creative person and educator and sharing my art and interests in the arts.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I was born in Santa Fe to a single mother in the late ’50s. At the time, she was encouraged by her mother, my grandmother, to come to Denver to stay with her maternal aunt to find more opportunities and better job prospects. It was challenging and difficult for her being a Hispanic single mother. So I grew up here in Denver, went to school here, and I became an artist and educator. I love living here in Denver. It is my home, and it gives me a sense of place, community and belonging. I often think about moving to New Mexico, where I spent summers as a child with my grandmother and my extended family. I travel down there often because of family, friends and art opportunities. With the dramatic growth here in Denver in the last few years, it makes it more challenging to live here, and it is disappointing to see the lack of sense of history and place by developers and recent arrivals. Older homes are scraped; older neighborhoods change; housing prices rise dramatically. It doesn’t feel the same. Through my years living here in Denver, there have been many changes, but during the last five to ten years, the changes seem almost exponential in comparison.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Continue to make art. Be healthy. Spend time with my wife and son. Play with our dogs and cats. Simple things in life. Travel.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because there are many wonderful, imaginative artists in Colorado. If I have to pick one person, that would be my wife, partner and friend, Sylvia Montero, who is also an artist.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I am currently on a full-year sabbatical from Regis University, where I teach. I am busy creating a new body of work. I am splitting my creative time between my studio and Art Gym. I am enjoying have a break from teaching, and working in a variety of media. I am taking a few workshops at Anderson Ranch and the Art Students League of Denver. I am exhibiting my artwork. But the most important thing on the agenda is sharing my time with my wife and son.
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Who (or what) do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Tony Ortega is a featured artist from November 3 through 18 at CHAC, 772 Santa Fe Drive; attend the opening reception from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, November 3. Also see work by Tony Ortega in the group show Art & Conflict, on view it at the Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada, through November 12, and in Spiritual Dimensions, a group exhibition focused on diverse Latin American cultures and traditions, on view through December 3, at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street, in Boulder.