Award-winning Colorado artist Tony Ortega has been teaching and painting for the past 30 years. In addition to his practice as a painter, pastelist, and printmaker, he also works with local communities to create landscape murals for public spaces.
“I see my work as about community, I see it as about place. If I’m going to do a mural, I usually have an exchange between me and that school or clinic about what it is they’re looking for. They like that it’s about the community or about the patients or about the students—it’s about the collective within that organization. The kids will suggest anything from their playground to the mountains or sometimes a cityscape. And usually they want something about diversity, not just ethnic and cultural diversity, but boys and girls, tall and short. Those are the kinds of things that we talk about. The one I did for Carbondale, Colorado, they wanted the Main Street and Mount Sopris—it’s kind of a landmark there.
On a superficial level, these murals add life to a room. They add color, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. It represents the people who may visit the clinic or represent the people who go to school there. And since the figures don’t have features—they do have hair color and skin tone, and gesture—you can put yourself into it, you can put your family into it or your friends. The murals reflect the population or the community that goes to school there or uses the health facilities or lives in that area.
I’ve noticed with the kids who help me, they share what they’ve done with their friends or siblings or family members. There is a sense of pride and participating. They remember working with me, they remember the mural, and sometimes they remember the parts of the mural they worked on.”
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