Sierra Montoya Barela, “Self-portrait,” oil on panel.
Sierra Montoya Barela, “Self-portrait,” oil on panel.
Courtesy of MCA Denver

100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Sierra Montoya Barela

#9: Sierra Montoya Barela

A young artist a few years out of art school at the Rhode Island School of Design, Sierra Montoya Barela is now back in her home town of Denver making waves in local alternative gallery spaces and as one of the first six artists chosen to contribute works to MCA Denver’s Octopus Initiative art lending library. Fresh off a fine solo show curated by Odessa Denver, Barela took time out from the work of making art and learning the ropes of professionalism to answer the 100CC questionnaire.

Sierra Montoya Barela, "Postcard From Paradise,” oil on panel.
Sierra Montoya Barela, "Postcard From Paradise,” oil on panel.
Courtesy of MCA Denver

Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Sierra Montoya Barela: I wouldn’t say I have a specific muse. I really just try to be authentic in my work and do what I want to do and make what I want to make. I think painters are really all their own muses.

I also look to my friends for inspiration, even if it’s just in the act of making and being excited about what they are doing. A lot of my friends work in different mediums than painting, and I feel like it’s really important to be surrounded by and work among other artists.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?

The first person that comes to mind is Frida Kahlo, and the second is Fran Fine. I’ve always looked up to Frida and admired all that she was able to accomplish through all of the pain and anguish that she endured. She is probably the person I think about the most when I deal with physical pain and working through it. And Fran Fine, of course, would just be fun to be around. I grew up watching The Nanny and have always loved her personality and fashion sense. Aside from those two, I think it would just be nice to be with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Sierra Montoya Barela, “American Landscape in Watermelon,” airbrush and acrylic on mixed media.
Sierra Montoya Barela, “American Landscape in Watermelon,” airbrush and acrylic on mixed media.
Courtesy of Gildar Gallery

What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field—and the worst?

I think Denver has a really unique and special creative community. It is very small and welcoming and supportive. It seems like people really do make an effort to try to be inclusive and helpful toward other artists. I also think it’s pretty cool how more artist-run spaces are popping up around Denver. I hope that continues on.
The worst probably ties into one of the best things — it’s pretty small.

How about globally?

I think the impact of Instagram on the global arts community can be both good and bad. It’s a great tool that can be used to connect you to art and artists from all over the world, but at the same time, I think it can be hard to have access to a truly endless amount of art at your fingertips at any given time. It can make it feel like everything that could ever be done has already been done. At the same time, I think people will work through ways of thinking quicker as they can solve ideas almost collectively.

Sierra Montoya Barela, "Untitled," acrylic on paper.
Sierra Montoya Barela, "Untitled," acrylic on paper.
Sierra Montoya Barela

Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?

I think it’s okay to get into a groove of something and do it a lot until you feel like you’re done with it, but I don’t think you should do something just because you see that it’s popular or that other people are into it.

What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?

I hope it’s yet to come!

Sierra Montoya Barela, “Look at me like I look at you,” acrylic on exposed linen.
Sierra Montoya Barela, “Look at me like I look at you,” acrylic on exposed linen.
Sierra Montoya Barela

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

I love traveling and seeing new places. I’d love to just go around the world and see some of my favorite paintings in real life. I really want to see "Güernica" at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. I think it would be wild to stand in the presence of that painting.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Denver’s great. I grew up here, and it’ll always be home. It’s especially nice to be in such close proximity to the mountains.

Sierra Montoya Barela, “Diablos,” oil on canvas.
Sierra Montoya Barela, “Diablos,” oil on canvas.
Courtesy of Yes Ma’am Projects

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

I’ve been seeing a lot of Diego Rodriguez-Warner’s work lately, and I love it. He’s super-talented across so many mediums, and his sheer scale and output is really motivating. Molly Bounds has also been doing some amazing things lately.

What’s on your agenda in the coming year?

I’m not really sure yet what’s ahead! I’ve been working on a few small collaborations with a painter I really admire, Dan Fig, and I’m excited to see where we take those. I’m also interested in seeing what I can do with the machine-embroidered paintings I’ve recently started working on. I think there’s a lot I can do in that medium if I give myself the time to explore it.

100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Sierra Montoya Barela
Sierra Montoya Barela for MCA Denver

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

I love Paul Keefe’s paintings! I’ve heard he’s getting into ice sculptures. I think Alexander Ablola is also doing some really cool things with his photography and apparel design. I’d love to see more from him.

Sierra Montoya Barela’s work is included in MCA Denver’s Octopus Initiative art lending library. More information online.

Learn more about Sierra Montoya Barela and her work at her website.

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