Native people are born into this world with an expectation that they will be participatory in life and contribute to society. What Mateo Romero has contributed most directly to life are his children and his art. Painting and drawing have always been urgent, compelling, and necessary. He makes marks out of a need to communicate, to contextualize, to form meaning in the world around him. For him it is less a choice and more of a manic drive deeply embedded in his psyche. Without these things, his life would be empty indeed.
Romero’s paintings are based in abstract expressionist references. Bold colors slash across canvas, hot colors vibrate next to cold, drips and smears hover over the surface. Action-painting references abound in stabbing, gestural marks. Artists like Franz Kline, William De Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell are his companions along this urgent pathway of color and surface.
The paintings are also part pop art. Photographic imagery collides with color and surface, giving rise to form, space, and emotion. The line between literal photographic information and gestural paint is blurred, reduced, destroyed. The collision between photography and paint results in something more and new. Artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg are signposts along this part of the painted pathway.
Finally, Romero’s paintings are portraits of Native people, many of them still living. They are governors, medicine men, society members, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and children. They are a snapshot of the living communities of the Rio Grande Pueblos. Instilled in these paintings is the essence of the dance, the sound of the baritone drumbeats at dawn echoing out over the plaza, the Tewa chanting of the men. And they are powerful, life-affirming images for all to share and enjoy.
In 2019 Romero received the Native Treasures Living Treasures Award from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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