Sunday, September 11, 2016

Diego Romero (1964 - )

If you are a collector you know what it means to wish to own something you cannot have.  Still one does not give up until one finds something to fulfill or at least ameliorate the need!  Not that the desire for the “original” object ever goes away it just takes the edge off.  Part of the fun of collecting is to chase your dream. For twenty years I have wanted a piece by Diego Romero whose work I knew through the pot bought by my friend, the late Ted Coe, (see Unfortunately for the Ralph T. Coe Foundation he left that piece to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  The pot was made in 1994 and note the inscription’s last sentence, “LIFELONG AMBITION: TO BE THE NEXT DON TRUMP OF INDIAN GAMING!!!

Diego Romero was born and raised in Berkeley, California, home to his non-Native mother, but his father was from the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico and that is where Diego spent his summers. Like so many Native families the Romeros have become a “dynasty” of artists. in which Diego and his brother Mateo are the third generation.  I have written about Mateo before  ... Diego’s wife Cara is a photographer whose work we bought last year and his son Santiago, also a ceramicist, has sold us a couple of small pieces.

Diego went to art school in Berkley and then attended the Institute of Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe for a year.  He went back to Los Angeles to the Otis Parsons School of design for his BFA and then UCLA for his MA which he receive in 1993.  A short while later he made a name for himself with a series of polychrome pots in a comic book style called the Chongo Brothers. A chongo is a Southwest Native man who wears his hair in a traditional bun.

Diego works in the classic manner of Southwest Native pottery with an underlying influence of ancient Mimbres  pottery.  I found a blog about Diego from the King Galleries, in Scottsdale, Arizona. It illustrated a bowl with a Coyote, which is a staple in Diego’s work, stating that the blocky stylization was inspired by the work of the artist Keith Haring , and further from Diego “ Originally Coyote (the trickster) tempted us to drink too much, messed with our cars and made us behave badly.  Later on Coyote appeared dancing in groups per Haring - but more representing happiness and fun (Life is good).  Fox and hound were a whimsical addition to make a happy trio.” 

Diego participates every year in Indian Market but he brings only a few works. Over the years we have visited Diego’s booth and he was either sold out or what he was showing was not quite what we had in mind.  Fortunately, one gallery in town has a very good relationship with Diego and his family and regularly exhibits their pieces.  It is the Robert Nichols Gallery.  Nichols came from the East coast with a collection of folk art as well as older Southwest pottery to sell in Santa Fe but soon decided to support living Native artists.  As is often said the dead ones don’t need it!

Recently Robert Nichols has had a larger selection than usual of Diego’s work, or maybe it was just that he put them all out in cubicles showing one pot in each space.  I liked several of them and I asked my wife to pick out one.  After she did, I asked her about another and she explained why she chose the one she did … so I concurred.

Written in gold lettering along the rim is the signature Diego has adopted “CHONGO MADE ME” along with the inscription  “CAYOTE & HOUND’ FIRST APPEARANCE OF HOUND’ ”. 10 ½ inches in diameter.   The bowl was featured in and Exhibition Coyote - Diego Romero and Santiago Romero at the Robert Nichols Gallery in 2011 and illustrated in the local art magazine “THE” in August 2011 previews.

Thomas Hoving recorded the excitement of collecting in the title, “The Chase and the Capture” that he gave to the 1975 exhibition and catalog of acquisitions made by the Metropolitan Museum. My chase for a Diego Rivera pot lasted two decades but I am delighted with the work that now lives in our home.

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