Contemporary Cochiti Painter Mateo Romero (1966- ) explains that he has always felt driven to make art – at an early age by his innovative and artistic family (including his potter grandmother Teresita Chavez Romero, a potter, his father Santiago Romero,a Painter, and his brother Diego Romero, a ceramic artist), later by his need for self-expression, and finally as a lifelong vocation and commitment to inspiring thought. Romero studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art and in 1989 earned a BFA at Dartmouth College. He continued his fine arts training at the Institute of American Indian Arts before completing his MFA in printmaking at the University of New Mexico in 1995.
Throughout his body of work, Romero provides snapshots of Native life – from the ancient to the contemporary, the mundane to the ceremonial and the beautiful to the unpleasant. He observes and documents moments in time, creating social landscapes where figurative elements blend with abstract symbols. Some of his paintings derive from his sense of responsibility to create artwork that raises questions about contemporary social issues affecting Indian communities. In these pieces he confronts historical violence or religious intolerance. His work, such as his Indian gaming paintings, can be controversial, and like the pop art references in Andy Warhol’s paintings, Romero points out self-imposed addictions and double standards.
Other paintings offer counterpoints to these darker moments. These pieces investigate his tribe’s sense of community and connection to the past, or portray Puebloan ceremony and dance. Romero’s latest paintings incorporate photographic imagery that he re-contextualizes, creating an historical dialogue and visual narrative of his people. Pueblo dancers and traditional figures, such as the Deer Dancer, seeks to reaffirm balance and regenerate life representing continuance, resistance, and renewal. Since much of Pueblo ceremonial life is restricted to outsiders, Romero turned to abstraction as a means to express himself and depict his culture without violating tribal protocol. He practices a form of “withholding” by sharing information that is permissible while protecting culturally-prohibited knowledge.
Romero sees the act of “mark making” to be as old as time itself and associated with prehistoric drawings on ancestral canyon walls such as those at Bandelier National Monument. His images are large scale, powerful, and imposing. They feature swirling, thick gestural marks that relay movement and emotion. Some of his work is influenced by 1960s Abstract-Expressionist painting, such as Franz Kline’s calculated spontaneity and attention to brush strokes, William de Kooning’s paint drips and figure ground ambiguity, and Richard Diebenkorn’s figurative work. Romero’s work also references Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages and complex painting surfaces. Romero’s paint-handling is clearly labored and textural – with layers that are sometimes splattered, scraped, and applied with palette knife and brush. He combines archaic elements of Pueblo culture with formal qualities of easel painting and the result is rhythmic, hypnotic, and trancelike, reflecting the metaphysical space of the Pueblo and the dances.
Thinking in terms of both the past and future, Romero examines Puebloan cultural traditions and how they have been influenced by external values, marketplace economy, and the expectations of stereotyped Indian art. He explores how Native cultures and symbols, either consciously or intuitively, cross generations and time. Viewing art as a powerful form of communication, he seeks to make his work not only meaningful to himself and his community, but also to have it reach a broader audience, provoke thought, and affect change.
Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at IAIA, Spring 2013
Romero, Mateo. Mateo Romero Studio. http://www.mateoromerostudio.com
This is the artist’s personal website.
Barber, Bonnie. “A Conversation With Mateo Romero’89.” Dartmouth Now. December 6, 2011. http://now.dartmouth.edu/2011/12/video-a-conversation-with-artist-mateo-romero-89/
This link leads to a text article about Dartmouth Alumni, Mateo Romero, and a video interview posted by the Dartmouth Now web site.
Abeyta, Gabriel Mozart Steven. “Mateo Romero.” Blue Rain Gallery August 9, 2009. www.blueraingallery.com/blog/mateo_romero_in_the_studio
This video shows Mateo Romero Painting, outside and inside. It is absolutely wonderful.
Pallas, Amy.” Cowboys and Mateo Romero: A spiritual moment, a strong community, and a connection to the past.” Cowboys & Indians, October 2011. www.cowboysindians.com/Cowboys-Indians/October-2011/Mateo-Romero/
In this interview, done after an IAIA graduation, Mateo speaks about why he makes art and loves to teach. “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.”
Fauntleroy, Gussy. “Mateo & Diego Romero | Looking Forward: Trends in Native Arts.” Southwest Art, August 2000.www.southwestart.com/articles-interviews/featured-artists/looking_forward
In this article Mateo and Diego talk about marketing strategies used in the Native art world, by galleries, shows, and their own personal personal marketing.
Abbot, Larry. “A Time of Visions.” I Stand in The Center of The Good. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. www.britesites.com/native_artist_interviews/mromero.htm
In this interview, Mateo discusses his 1995 curation of the Chongo Brothers: Third Generation Cochiti Artists, exhibition, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, NM, dated July 10, 1995,