Regis professor’s humor and commentary to go on display at Loveland Museum

Often when people view Tony Ortega’s artwork in a gallery, their reactions follow a pattern: First, they recognize a character from American pop culture. Then, they see Ortega’s humor burst through: Classic Mexican imagery, from Our Lady of Guadalupe to colors from the Mexican flag, come to the forefront. In one piece, Mickey Mouse is a symbol of the Day of the Dead. In another, Elvis Presley has a darker complexion and wears a sombrero.

Finally, viewers recognize Ortega’s social commentary.

“They start chuckling to themselves or chuckling amongst a small group of people that are looking at the work,” said Ortega, a Fine and Performing Arts professor at Regis. “As they look at the work as a collective, they realize, ‘Oh, he’s making some social and political statements here.’”

Crowds can experience Ortega’s work firsthand in an upcoming show in Loveland. Tony Ortega – Magia Chicana will be on display at the Loveland Museum July 24 though Nov. 13.

An opening reception will be hosted 6-8 p.m. Aug. 13 at the gallery.

Ortega said this collection came together over the past decade, using a combination of techniques from Western and Indigenous cultures. In one painting, Ortega remakes Superman with Mexican imagery.

“I call him Super Hombre. That’s what they would call him in Mexico. If you see him, he wears red, white and blue. He is sort of a symbol of white America or capitalism, the middle class, etc. In a way, he’s kind of a Jesus story, too. He’s an only son to a father sent to Earth to help mankind,” Ortega said. “So, there are sort of these Christian stories, these American stories that get wrapped together, and I turn around and put Mexican flag colors on it, I make him dark complected. I guess I’m just questioning, ‘Who is Superman? Does he have to be American? Does he have to be from the United States?’”

In a piece for The Journal of the California Society of Printmakers, Ortega wrote that his work comes from a place of cultural hybridity as he experiences two cultures on a daily basis. When it comes to injecting humor into his work, Ortega said he was influenced by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, who used parody and humor in his late-19th-century work.

The collection on display in Loveland is no different.

“It’s a political or social commentary without hitting you over the head,” Ortega said. “Humor becomes the doorway to talking about some of those issues of what it means to be Mexican or Mexican-American. Who owns history? Who controls history? Who writes history? It talks about myths.” 

For more information about the show, visit the Loveland Museum website.