- Mateo Romero, Cochiti, American, 1966-
- Born: Berkeley, CA
- Work Locations: Pojoaque pueblo
About the Artist
Born in Berkeley, California, in 1966 and Cochiti by birth on his father’s side, Mateo Romero comes from a family of artists. His father is a painter, his grandmother was a potter, and his brother, Diego, is a ceramic artist whose works are also part of the Denver Art Museum collection.
Romero attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, but later returned to his Pueblo roots. He now lives in Pojoaque Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, with his wife and three children. He has been described as a painter’s painter who loves painting for the sheer creative and tactile pleasure of applying layers of color to canvas.
What Inspired It
This painting is one of a series of three that Romero started in Mexico and finished in Denver in 1990. Though not a portrait of specific individuals, the man and woman represent types of people Romero knew—urban Indians displaced from their traditional communities. The series title, Bonnie and Clyde, with its reference to a well-known outlaw couple, marks the subjects of the painting as outsiders, possibly even lawbreakers.
The artist made this series at a time when gritty social commentary played a prominent role in his work. “The purpose of this series is to elicit reaction,” Romero has said. “Some of the issues I was dealing with were alienation, resistance, and traditional continuity in a contemporary social context. This series can then be viewed as cameos of people from my own experience, as gangsters, or warriors within a traditional sensibility fighting displacement within a majorative Anglo culture, which has time and again proven that there is no place for them.”
The man’s cowboy hat and the woman’s silver concho belt and turquoise bracelet identify the couple as contemporary urban Indians.
Romero loves to build up thick layers of paint—a technique called impasto—and has even used tar as a pigment. “I have been seduced by muscular, sensual painting. I am married to gesture, movement, colors that breathe, impasto palette knife work, and thin washes carefully drawn in paint.”
The gun is a metaphor for violence and the cigarette is a symbol of addiction. The gun also gives the painting a narrative underpinning—it creates the feeling of something about to happen, a kind of impending doom.
The painting is large enough (about five feet high) that a viewer standing in front of it encounters the couple at close to life size. Romero talks about creating “a feeling of walking into this space and surprising the figures in the car,” noting also that he likes the sense of tension this gives the work.