A spiritual moment, a strong community, and a connection to the past.
Mateo Romero answers his cellphone as throngs of recent graduates of the Institute of American Indian Arts flow from the commencement ceremony into the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Romero, thoroughly enjoying the revelry, is repeatedly interrupted by the enthusiastic greetings of his students. He is both touched by their affection and hopeful for their future: “Art has the ability to reach people and unlock their potential,” he says above the melee. “It can make them more empowered, more cognitively and spiritually alive.”
When he himself was a young graduate with a B.F.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico, Romero’s desire to empower others spurred him to create his now famous Bonnie & Clyde series. Depicting glamorous Native American youths lounging in red convertibles, the striking paintings contain a dark undercurrent. “I had something to say to whoever would listen about the inequities in Native communities,” the Cochiti painter explains. “If you look carefully at the body language and what’s around them, the paintings touch on domestic violence.”
Nearly 20 years later, Romero still has something to say. His current work, which juxtaposes photographs of timeless Pueblo culture with bold abstract-expressionist brushwork, celebrates the Rio Grande Pueblo where Romero lives with his wife and three children. The work begins with an original photograph that is applied to the canvas. Then paint is splattered, scraped, and dripped onto the surface.
“The paint has different consistencies,” says Romero. “It’s almost like a thin wash on the photographs, but it’s very muscular and heavy in the background. On the larger pieces I use a lot of industrial tools like plastering spatulas and brooms. I’m fascinated by oversized tools and the kind of marks they make.” The thick, swirling paint intensifies the movements and emotions found in the photographs. Explains Romero, “They are about a spiritual moment, a strong community, and a connection to the past.”
ABOVE: Deer Dancer Binary Series, mixed media, 30 x 40.
GALLERIES: Blue Rain Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 505.954.9902; Scottsdale, Arizona, 480.874.8110, www.blueraingallery.com. Lovetts Fine Art Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 918.664.4732, www.lovettsgallery.co