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Colombian artist hopes work can cross barriers

Diego Montoya Concha is a Colombian artist showing for the first time in America. His work is on display in Spokane at the Caterina Winery. (Dan Pelle)
Diego Montoya Concha is a Colombian artist showing for the first time in America. His work is on display in Spokane at the Caterina Winery. (Dan Pelle)

Americans are separated from other countries and their inhabitants by oceans and other boundaries, language and misconceptions.

Colombian artist Diego Montoya Concha wants to change that by using the universal language of art to convey to others his love for his country, its people, and its beauty. Through April, Concha will be exhibiting his work for the first time in the U.S. at Caterina/Lone Canary Winery, 905 N. Washington St.

Certainly it was a little difficult to interview him as he spoke no English. His interpreter, Rick Tschauder, took some liberties only because some things didn’t translate well. He explained, “How do you translate ‘the flesh melting off figures, leaving only form’ as Diego describes his work? In his language meat and flesh are the same word.” Concha’s passion is evident, not just in his work but in the way he pressed his hands to his heart and then opened his arms as he said, “when I started painting, I began externalizing what’s inside.”

Concha grew up in Roldanillo, Colombia, where his father worked in the sugar cane fields and his mother cared for him and his three sisters. An artists’ colony of sorts, Roldanillo offered many opportunities for its people.

“There were not a lot of distractions where I come from,” Concha said, “Not contaminated by outside influences, our expressions were only inspired by the beauty that surrounded us.” Concha began playing percussion instruments and the clarinet in his youth. He played in symphonies where he was exposed to various types of music.

Natural progression led him to dance and, at 17, he began dancing with indigenous groups sponsored by a local museum, Museo Rayo, founded by noted Colombian artist named Omar Rayo. Concha’s works of art are rooted in music and dance, and represent lyrical abstractions – sensual shapes of women in charcoal or bright acrylic and mixed-media forms both abstract and figurative.

Staring at his abstracts that at first seem simple in design, forms emerge as does subtle movement. “These pieces are form and color,” Concha said, “They are the songs of the animals, the people, and the vegetation.”

For the past 15 years, Concha, 40, has been a professional artist. He has pieces hanging in 13 museums and more than 30 galleries in Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. Jaime Tamayo, an art critic in Mexico, describes Concha’s paintings as “a reflection of music; a visualization of the musical scale that the artist sees. It is a taste of a universe that reflects the phenomenon of the lighting and the configuration of palettes in Central and South America where the colors have not only a decorative use but are symbolic of the great depth in the pre-Columbian cultures … The balance found in each piece through the fluid forms and their balances, as well as the levels that appear to be endless and to continue outside the canvas, make the work a true celebration of form and color.”

About five years ago, Concha opened an art gallery in Zacatecas, a colonial city in central Mexico, where he met Tschauder, a Spokane resident whose work often takes him to Latin America.

“We would frequent the same places,” Tschauder said. “We started discussing the idea of bringing his work to the U.S. I know that Spokane isn’t exactly known as a ‘hot spot’ for art but it’s where I live and I have a friend who manages Caterina and so we started planning.”

To help fund his travels, Concha painted dozens of portraits of the patron saint of Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to sell to tourists.

Concha was scheduled to show at Caterina last fall, but his visa fell through. Finally, everything worked out and he is in Spokane now, enjoying the scenery.

“There’s more order and things are laid out and planned here,” Concha said, “but it’s good.”

After his exhibit in Spokane, he will travel to the Museum of Science and Arts in Texas, the House of Mexican Culture in Chicago, and possibly Miami to display his work.

Some Americans might think drug lords, insurgencies and kidnappings when they think of Colombia. But as Concha explained – using the term “estereotipo (stereotype)” more than once – “Yes there is violence and corruption. Yes there are drug lords. But it does not affect the typical Colombian. It is not Colombia.”

What is more important to him is the beauty of the countryside, of the people, the culture, the birds and animals, and he reflects that in his art, simultaneously breaking down the boundaries, language barriers, and misconceptions that separate his people from ours. “Everywhere people want to repair the world/earth,” he said, “Colombia is no different.”


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