Nelson Ortegon – Mural Artist And Graphic Designer
I found Nelsons work on Instagram and it blew me away. The vibrancy of the colors, the scale and the tribal aspects of his work are amazing, mixing street art with traditional murals of Latin america. Under the surface of his work are the symbols and drawing of native american culture. He expresses his work with lots of color and beautiful creatures.
Myself and photographer Mike interviewed Nelson in person, along came this amazing guy in his big sheepskin coat, checked shirt, and oxblood Doc Martin shoes. We knew straight away this was a man who thinks about style and art, he looks creative and very definitely is.
It was a pleasure to interview him.
Why did you move to Barcelona?
Honestly right now I am settling in, but I know there are a lot more opportunities here to develop my art, to be seen and see other artists.In Colombia, I was a graphic designer- its my job so I might have to design a poster, and that is work.however, at the same time I also do it as a hobby so I paint in my free time, I was doing work , mural painting, for example murals in shopping malls, for me this was like my graphic design job, I was painting for a client, not expressing myself.
So how did I come here, well my sister lives here also, when the opportunity across I took it, didn’t have to think twice. I am looking at the moment to find places for me to paint.
What do you want to say with your work?
I paint about a lot of things. I do not close myself off to painting about certain themes. But there is one thing. I don’t know if you have realized this, it is the subject of native Americans. The indigenous Americans and regaining that culture. We are losing that language and culture. It’s also about this country Spain, too. We have to reconsider things because we are an ex-Spanish colony and many Colombians want to forget that. They forget we are a mixture of Spanish and indigenous people. I like to reclaim the language of indigenous people, as well as having a cosmic view or vision. They see everything. From relating to each other, the food, plants psychedelic things, they enter in contact with let’s say the whole universe through the use of a plant. There are times times that I deal with psychoactive plants, mushrooms, marijuana, and all that. It’s a taboo. But it’s like giving it a re-interpretation, because it’s a style of communication they view differently. Obviously, it’s a taboo for many people. But it’s like reclaiming their culture which is something worth a lot. They know all about the stars before the currently recognized astronomers. In Colombia, you have around 20 indigenous groups. From Mexico to Argentina, there are many more. In Mexico, you have the Aztecs with there pyramids and there Mayan calendar. They know the stars and the plants. And they coexist with their environment. They view the natural world in a different way. I like to combine these ancestral ideas with modern images. I like to combine the cyber, digital world with other more natural ones.
Did you start drawing and painting from an early age, and how did you become the artist you are now?
It’s been a very long process. I started drawing when I was a kid, a starting point for many artists. As I grew, I became interested in painting & taught myself. Leaving school, I studied to be a graphic designer. I am now a graphic designer and this has helped me understand the features of images. I have some knowledge of photography, of the basis of an artistic image in general. From this point I have been continuing down the same route, basically with street art. I don’t limit myself to just that, but that’s what I find the most fulfilling. I can paint at home. I can do oil paintings or paint canvases but it doesn’t feel the same as painting on the street. When painting on the street, your work is being displayed to the general public. And even though I am not paying a gallery, lots of people stop, look, and think about the message behind it. For me that’s what’s important about street art.
I distinguish myself from graffiti artist, because mural art is very different in that Graffiti is very much about the forms of letters, while a mural has a deeper message. You can see as a reference the murals and tradition of Muralismo in Mexico for example, the work of Diego Rivera, a huge mural painter. He has a very social aspect to his work. his work is talking about politics. So for me the act of painting in the street is very political.
What are the qualities that define an artist?
That is a difficult question for sure. It has a lot do with the idea behind their work. An artist wants to express a lot of ideas, what they want to communicate, and technical skills. They need to understand color and technique, but also those rules can be broken. Take Picasso, at first his technique was very good. He then changed to a more childlike style. First, you need to understand artistic techniques and the fundamentals. For example, your work can be very abstract, maybe people will not understand it. It’s not always about being able to explain the art, but you need to understand the fundamentals of the medium to see the elements behind the work to understand it more deeply.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
Well in reality, there are many people I find inspiration from. In Colombia, the muralismo movement is very active. There are lots of artists having an International impact for example Ledania (Colombian artist) who paints all over the world. We also have Stinkfish and Franco. Obviously, I also get references from street artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. One has different influences not just of technique and style, but also the political and the visual.
Following up on what you said about working as a graphic designer and being an artist in your free time, how do you see each and how would you separate the two?
They are closely related. But when it comes to monetizing your work, graphic design is much more market-focused, being open to the demands of the market. With art, it’s not like that. I would love to make a living from my art, illustrations, and murals. But up to now, I have not been able to do that.
I hope one day I have the opportunity to do so, to be able to paint, create an animation or whatever because I am inspired to do it, not because a client has asked for it. So really it’s more a question of how you survive, how do you find your place in society.
Do you dream & does your dreams influence your work?
This is one of the themes I put into my work – what is a dream. It’s knowledge that you cannot find in a book or a library. Dreaming is like another layer of yourself. You can reveal your fears or other things you haven’t been able to imagine. So paying attention to your dreams is very important. Take Salvador Dali for example. His paintings were often based on dreams, very surreal things. Sometimes you find them absurd. But if you think about them metaphorically, you can see lots of different things.
I would like to know more about the pineal gland, which is part of your brain activated when you are sleeping, and it’s also activated by psychoactive substances such as DMT, which take you out of your physical self and into another place.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
If my body allows it, then I would like to be painting on big buildings. If not,
I would like to show my work in a gallery. I would like to show the social part of what I am doing. In Bogota, there are many big social issues. I would like to show new generations the new tools to express themselves, and to dream because people do not see art as something viable. You can do other things but it is not a viable path. So I would like to show that exhibiting your work is a good thing to do.