Video: A Conversation with Artist Mateo Romero ’89

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Mateo Romero exhibit

"The Dartmouth Pow-Wow Suite,” the work of painter Mateo Romero ’89, is on display at the Hood Museum of Art through January 15, 2012. (photo by Jeff Nintzel)

“I am very much a Pueblo person, but I think of myself as a contemporary Indian as well as a contemporary artist,” says Mateo Romero ’89, who was raised in a family of artists in Berkeley, Calif., but now lives with his wife and four children in Pojoaque Pueblo, near Santa Fe, N.M.

Romero’s mixed media pieces typically reflect the melding of traditional Cochití life with the modern Rio Grande Pueblo experience. But he focused his camera lens on Dartmouth for his current exhibit, “Mateo Romero: The Dartmouth Pow-Wow Suite,” which is on display at the Hood Museum of Art through January 15, 2012 and serves as a complement to the museum’s extensive “Native American Art at Dartmouth” exhibition.

“The Hood’s 2009 commission was intended to showcase the work of a prominent Native American artist who was also a Dartmouth graduate,” says Michael Taylor, the Director of the Hood Museum of Art. “Since completing his undergraduate studies, Mateo Romero has achieved international recognition for his photo-based paintings, thus making him the natural choice for this commission. The museum asked him to focus his attention on the annual Dartmouth Pow-Wow and we are thrilled with the resulting suite of paintings, which look absolutely stunning in the exhibition at the Hood.”

Among those featured in the 10 nearly life-sized portraits of students and alumni dancing at the College’s annual Pow-Wow are writer Louise Erdrich ’76 and her daughter Aza Erdrich ’11.

As he does with all his works, Romero applied a six-step process to the Pow-Wow photographic prints, overpainting them with acrylic paint and then adding a final glaze of roofing tar to create a glowing patina. “I think of it as a collision between photographic images of people and abstract expressionist backgrounds,” he explains. “But I don’t think of myself as a photographer. I’m a painter.”

Museums that hold Romero’s works in addition to the Hood include the Peabody Essex Museum, the Autry Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, and the Denver Art Museum.

In the video above, Romero also discusses his Dartmouth mentors, retired faculty members Ben Frank Moss and Varujan Boghosian. Their contrasting artistic and teaching styles made them similar to “Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from the early ‘Star Treks,’” says Romero. “And between those two people I got kind of a moral art compass at a very young age.”

As an undergraduate, Romero says he dreamed of having a show at the Hood and loves returning to the College on the Hill.

“Dartmouth feels like home when I come back. I love being here and working with students. Dave Rettig ’75, who was my first art dealer in Santa Fe, refers to it as ‘Tribe Dartmouth.’ That doesn’t just refer to Native Americans at Dartmouth. It’s a very close-knit community of wonderful people.”