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Artist – Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

Orlando Montenegro-Cruz - Abstract Artist
Artist – Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

I was born in Managua, Nicaragua in 1982. My father was a lawyer and my mother was an accountant, but they immigrated to the United States in the late 80’s because of political and economic turmoil, and for the opportunity and hope for a better life in the United States. I have been drawing since I was around six or seven, when I saw the movie Ben-Hur and picked up a piece of chalk to draw a horse on the floor. When I was growing up I liked to draw dinosaurs, ninja turtles, and girls. Before I ever took an art history class, I was exposed to art in primary and secondary school, and that is where I first encountered Michelangelo. I remember thinking how beautiful the Sistine Chapel looked in a book and to this day I wonder what it is like in person. One of my goals is to see it in person one day.

In 2007, I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I created representational imagery and did not have any desire to make abstract work. My paintings and drawings were inspired by themes such as death, but I did not strive to tell a story or to spoon feed a message to the viewer. I was interested in skilfully organizing and creating an image.

In 2011, I graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona in Tucson. My experience in graduate school helped me to grow as an artist, but there were times when I felt frustrated and lonely. I was insecure about what I was making, and I was stressed about creating a body of work that would allow me to graduate with a degree. In my final I decided to explore abstraction and developed my use of color. I was inspired when I looked at work by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Julie Mehretu.

Below are a couple of examples of my work (click on images for larger view):

Kitchen by Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

Under the Influence by Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

Purge by Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

Grace by Orlando Montenegro-Cruz

I am currently teaching in the Department of Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I am exposed to a wide range of students whose goals range from degrees in architecture, computer science, and nursing. Every semester I get to go back to the basics such as perspective, proportions, line variation, shape, value, and the use of pencil and charcoal. For me the most important thing is to develop their skills by having them draw from observation.

My goal is to continue exploring the art making process and to expand my own limitations.

My process sometimes involves drawing with pen, pencil, or sharpie, and pouring, spraying, or brushing paint on canvas, panel, or paper. Elements are intentional, precise, loose, random or controlled. Many of the paintings function like landscapes, but they are more like maps or topography with motifs accumulating like dust or swarms. Color, paint puddles, and drips are merged with shape and line that reference the body through the mimesis of its contours and dis-figurations that create pathways akin to streams or veins.

When I began to make work that was not heavily dependent on the representation of a recognizable subject or object, I was lost because I was accustomed to creating an image that looked like something. Exploring abstraction helped me to think about color and space through layering and the intensity or dullness of a pigment. It also forced me to look more closely at composition and design. I still don’t understand the whole process or mechanics and it takes experimentation and chance. It can be long and slow with trial and error, planning, application, contemplation, or preparation.

There are times when nothing works out or I am timid and afraid to do anything because each time I look at a blank canvas, it feels I am learning a language for the first time all over again. The most important thing for me is that it has a meaning or purpose even if it is not clear or obvious. I don’t like to say that my work conveys this or that agenda or purpose. I sometimes avoid reading artist statements before looking at work because I like to see what I get out of the process of observing and contemplating something visually. Painting can function similar to music without lyrics and it doesn’t have to be a moment literally frozen in time.

Orlando Montenegro-Cruz
Abstract Artist

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