The large-scale paintings that Jorge Montero has created for his latest exhibition at Cork House Gallery are bright, whimsical, distorted portraits that “provide a refreshing visual breeze that lingers,” as the artist describes in his artist statement.
But these pieces weren’t made in a vacuum, instead having come from a lifetime of experience, which he detailed on this week’s episode of Art on the Air.
This included a stop as a political cartoonist in Venezuela during the rise of Hugo Chávez. “That was a bohemian time in my life. I lived in the mountains, super far way, I played saxophone. My house was a super crappy small house that I rented from a farmer.”
He didn’t have any artistic training, nor did he know much about politic. But he’d shown a natural talent as a child, so he got the gig. It turned out to be almost like going to art school in many ways.
“That helped me a lot as a visual communicator because I worked directly with the editor, and I didn’t really know anything about local politics,” Montero explained. “And this guy always kept me updated. Sometimes he told me ‘I need something against that guy.’ And I didn’t know who that guy was at all. But I started to find a way to synthesize information, and put it in a very simple way and also humorously.”
Recognizing that he had some talent, Montero came to the United States for a more formal artistic education. That’s where he started designing posters, frequently critical of the same Chávez regime that he’d been optimistic about when he was younger. This foray into a new type of media pushed him even further.
“Poster design is really hard because it’s, what my professor told me, ‘instant information,’ he said. “Imagine having a billboard, and you’re driving, and [you have] one microsecond you see [that] billboard. You have to get that right.”
This is in contrast to the way that gallery artists think. “When you are a fine artist, you have total creative freedom,” he said. “Who cares if someone sees a dog and it’s supposed to be dinosaur, or it’s supposed to be nothing? But applied art has to be functional. You have to get what you should get. And it also has to be in a creative way.”
So when the folks over at Cork House Gallery first approached him to be the featured artist in their inaugural exhibition, he felt the need to step back over that line, back towards the fine art side of his spirit. Throughout his past work, Montero utilizes a particular gestural style of creating characters, in particular in their facial features.
“I did an analysis of my body of work. And I found those faces were my favorite things.”
He took that seed and ran with it, creating a number of simultaneously strange, charming, and funny portraits that both connect to his past and push him towards his own future as an artist.
“The understanding of line that I gained from the drawings of my past served as training and development of a mental skeleton used to capture and transfer you to another kind of visual world.”
Listen to the entire interview with Jorge Montero embedded here. His exhibition “The Laughter After” is currently on-view at Cork House Gallery at 230 West Bay Street in Savannah.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week’s guest on the show will be Lisa Rosenmeier.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, co-host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.