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Roberto Gil de Montes: A Well-Kept Secret

Andres Alvarez

 In the painting of Roberto Gil de Montes, one perceives a profound humanism, a feature that transcends the Naif aesthetic and delves into the pictorial intensity of expressionism, not necessarily so stereotypical. His work fuses the spontaneity and freshness of modern pictorial practice with a skill that avoids stagnation in academic preciosity, achieving a blend of the best of various pictorial styles within the avant-garde.


Since the seventies, Gil de Montes has been an essential figure in the Chicano art movement in Los Angeles. This movement was not only an emblem of identity reaffirmation for the Mexican community in the United States but also a platform for the fight for civil rights. Despite not being a widely praised artist in the media, his perseverance and dedication to his craft have kept him current and relevant. His life in the small town of Los Fuertes and his focus on art as a vital force evoke the image of creators from past eras, whose artistic practice resembles a priesthood.


Roberto Gil de Montes was born in Guadalajara in 1950 and moved with his family to Los Angeles at the age of 13. His immersion in the Chicano movement during his early youth was a turning point in his career, allowing him to develop a unique style that reflects both his identity and the depth of American and European culture.




Gil de Montes' work is deeply intimate. His paintings often feature young men who seem to be extensions of himself or a kind of alter ego. These characters are found in meditative or somewhat estranged postures. This visual surrealism not only challenges the viewer's perception but also raises existential questions about identity and spirituality.

His works also play with references to the history of Western art, but always with a subversive twist. In "El Pescador" the young man emerges from a shell on the waters, in the style of Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus.“


A distinctive aspect of his work is the integration of Huichol iconography, which adds a layer of spiritual and cultural depth. In "Días de Lluvia" (2022) he presents floating busts with deer head motifs. "Boy Deer" (2023) also explores the interaction between the human figure and nature. This is another character in his paintings and is a reflection of the world that surrounds him there, in La Peñita de Jaltemba.

Paintings in order of appearance:

(Details) Endangered Species, 2021

Untitled, 2021

El Pescador, 2020

Although many consider his work a well-kept secret, its impact on contemporary visual culture is indisputable. His association with the New York gallery Kurimanzutto has been crucial in bringing his work to a broader audience and reaffirming his relevance in the current artistic landscape. Critics have praised his ability to combine elements of different "isms" and create works that are both visually captivating and conceptually profound. The use of blues and greens and his mastery of tones to recreate seascapes, lakes, and jungles reinforce the sense of a reclaimed paradise that his works sometimes convey.


But, despite the calmness of the figures and the almost idyllic landscapes, there is an unsettling element in Roberto Gil's compositions, a hidden, almost concealed violence, like a fissure in a surface that should have been perfect and shiny. It is there, in that moment of fracture of his paradisiacal images, where the artist plants clues about his drama, about our drama. This is why in a piece like "Wrecked" (2023) the boat where the young fisherman rests is holed, as behind the peaceful always lurks the catastrophe.

Gil -montes-el-pescador-.24.png

Gil de Montes has expressed in several interviews his vision of art and identity. “The press always asks, 'How do you feel? Are you Mexican? Are you American?' I have to say: 'I am Mexican, I am American, I am an immigrant, I am gay, I am Chicano,' all these things. And now I am a surrealist!”. These words encapsulate the complexity of his identity and the richness of his work, which continues to challenge and enchant the audience.


In summary, Roberto Gil de Montes is an artist whose work combines personal introspection with a rich cultural heritage, creating a legacy that continues to resonate in the contemporary art world.

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