Denver artist’s work fuses Mexican, American pop culture

Hispanic Heritage Month

DENVER (KDVR) — A long-time local professor with deep roots in both American and Mexican tradition is raising the bar with art that challenges cultural norms.

As you make your way upstairs into Tony Ortega’s second-floor North Denver studio, it’s not hard to focus on the fine print. Ortega challenges you to do a double-take of what you think you’ve seen before.

“I like to be around people who like to make art, look at art, talk about art,” Ortega said.

From the Statue of Liberty to Mickey Mouse to Superman, his work is a blend — a who’s who of American and Mexican culture and history.

Ortega, who is a longtime professor at Regis, is himself a by-product of both Mexican and American traditions.

“I’m mixing cultures and time. It’s a way to try and understand, who am I? Where do I come from? And also, what am I trying to say with my work?”

Tony Ortega’s second-floor North Denver studio showcases his blend of Mexican and American cultures, like “Superhombre.” (KDVR)

His inventory extends like a library catalog, with lithographs, etchings and watercolor work. It’s art designed to engage the eye — art designed to maybe change your mind.

“A lot of this is about appropriating images, like using images artists have been using for centuries, decades and years,” Ortega said.

He makes works of art that you think you have seen many times before. But a second glance tells you it’s a first-time meeting.

“In Spanish, we say double centito — several layers, or a double meaning,” Ortega said.

Among his most talked-about artwork: Superhombre.

“After a while, they realize, why can’t the Mexican be Superman? Why just a hero for America?” Ortega said.

His works have been seen all over Colorado and the West. Until November, Ortega’s “Magia Chicana” exhibit can be seen at the Loveland Museum.

With works that depict Elvis, to Superman, to John — or “Juan” — Wayne, Ortega doesn’t tell you what you should think about his work. He just wants to challenge you about what you see.

Maybe, just maybe, the next time you see Superman, you’ll recognize that “super” should be seen through the eyes of the multicultural art lover.

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