The Loteria game-- a traditional Mexican-version of bingo-- is a staple in Mexican culture, especially for young Mexis who grew up playing it and are well versed in its bright, colorful illustrations and varied characters. It's this game that young Chicano artist Mat Hurtado uses as a cultural signifier for his heritage, while playing with the game's original symbols and changing them up to let the viewer in on his life experiences, sense of humor and, of course, a gage on Hurtado's painting talents. These works are part of Hurtado's first solo show 'Intimum Introitum,' starting this weekend at Marcas Gallery.
Hurtado's paintings reproduce the original style of the Loteria cards, but they hide the fact that Hurtado is a talented artist adept at realistic oil paintings that hark back to the classical masters like Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vinci. And it's all the more impressive that Hurtado didn't develop an interest in painting or art well after he was eighteen [he's now 25 years old].
Hurtado credits his brother, Nikko, for having a major influence on him becoming an artist. Growing up in Hesperia, Hurtado wasn't especially interested or exposed to art except for Nikko, who would grow up to be a tattoo artist. At eighteen, Hurtado moved in with Nikko and would do small set up work for him in his parlor before finally asking him to teach him how to tattoo.
"He told me he would only teach me how to tattoo or think about teaching me to tattoo if I filled up a sketchbook [with drawings]," Hurtado explains. "So I ended up buying a sketchbook, filling it up with the most terrible drawings. I showed him and he was like, 'cool.'" From there, he began taking art classes at a community college, then beginning his apprenticeship with Nikko. In that time, Hurtado developed his skills, strengthened by Nikko's mentorship as well as the guidance and knowledge of his friends and fellow tattooers.
"I've never had too much traditional learning from anybody, most of its just been friends. They really helped me to push my work and took the time to really help me, like whenever I ask them a question they'll tell me how they did that or to try this or try that, they'll always give me feedback."
And with the experience of working as a tattooer during the day, Hurtado says that has shaped him to have a deeper work ethic. "You gotta hustle and try to get work and be self motivated. There's no hourly pay in tattooing, so it's all up to you," Hurtado explains.
Deeply inspired by the realism style of the classical masters, Hurtado has set out to bring more prominence to his culture thorugh his paintings. He's regularly depicted piñatas, bottles of Tapatio (he puts that shit on everything, he says), but then lets his inner nerd out by making a series of Lego people paintings, crossing over with the Simpsons, Marvel and Star Wars characters.
'Intimum Introitum', Latin for 'Intimate Passages' is a humorous and at times perplexing inner look at Hurtado's life, acting as journal entries for the past two years. Pregnancy tests, nights of bacchanalia, broken hearts-- yep, all par for the course when you're a young twenty-something, and what fools we mortals be. The one painting in the show that stays true to Hurtado's realistic style in the show is "Dance With The Devil," depicting a beautiful woman in a red, white and green dress with a loteria card behind her.
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Hurtado's art journey has been unconventional so far, but it continues to expand. With a couple group shows already under his belt and a second show in New York coming up, Hurtado's has already brought prominence to his name, simply by following his passion. It's a far leap from his initial "embarrassing" drawings Nikko had him create in his sketchbook all those years ago. "Sometimes I'll go back and look at the drawings just to see what they look like, hoping that they're gonna get better but they never do, they're gonna stay that way forever," he says. "It's like, really embarrassing, but it's nice to see where I started."
'Intimum Introitum' opens Saturday, August 29, 8 p.m. at Marcas Gallery, 305 E. 4th St. #103, Santa Ana, www.marcasgallery.com. Through September 27th.