By Miguel Juárez
José Montoya is one of the most prolific artists in El Paso. Last year, El Paso News featured him and his work in our our coverage during Pride month. That month, we broke the record for publishing the most articles in celebration of Pride month, surpassing ALL local El Paso-based media outlets.
Aside from being involved in numerous projects, working with area youth, serving as an advocate for important community issues, and organizing two art auctions, Montoya created his art throughout the pandemic. His work continues to add to the growing interest and support of LGBTQ arts and artists.
Not since 1987, when Randall David Fleet and I organized an exhibit titled “Artists Against AIDS,” at the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art Gallery, when it was located at the former Cultural Planning Council Complex at the corner of East Missouri and North Stanton (what is now a parking lot across from Pride Square), has there been so much interest in LGBTQ art locally. As I recall, Fleet and I had one week to organize our exhibit which ran for two weeks and raised over $3,000. Like Montoya’s art activism, “Artists Against AIDS” was a fundraiser for the Southwest AIDS Committee (SWAC), at a time when they really needed the funds. El Paso News profiled Fleet’s art last year in the article “The Art of Randell David Fleet.”
Continuing to focus on LGBTIQ artists, creatives and their allies, we sent contributors questions asking how they and their art fared during the pandemic. The first article in this series was “Artist Marcos Rey’s Spiritual Work.”
El Paso News (EPN): José, last year we profiled you and your art in El Paso News, what has changed in your life since then?
José Montoya (JM): Since last summer I have continued to create more art. In my peaceful resistance to the city government’s proposed arena, I painted a whimsical sun scene on one of the city’s fence tarps. Throughout the past year my work evolved from portraits to body painting (specifically now after vaccination), creating murals and painting one-of-kind totes, masks and jackets. I have also been helping the Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County create an arts and social justice curriculum for colonia youth. It’s been a busy year!
EPN: How did you and your artwork manage during the Pandemic?
JM: During the pandemic, I decided to start painting and worked on some digital art since I’ve mainly worked in pastel. Even when I am feeling disconnected or with low energy, I try to practice the art of creation, so I kept busy with my persistence to drawing, sketching and photography throughout the pandemic (and continue to do so).
EPN: How were you and your art making affected by the Pandemic?
JM: I was affected by the pandemic because I had no longer had many viable routes to make money. I had a job offer as a coordinator at a local youth farm, but those plans dissolved the day everything shut down. I was lucky enough to have been recruited by the youth coordinator at the Empowerment Congress to help them with the DescolonizArte project, and we created two murals the last year.
EPN: What do you want to communicate to others about your work?
JM: I would like for people to know that my work is authentic. I might borrow an idea, but always expand on it through my queer eye. Ultimately, my mission as an artist is liberation: freedom to create and inspire.
EPN: What do you want to tell potential art buyers and/or supporters about your work?
JM: I would like to say thank you to anyone who has purchased a piece, shared my stories on social media and went to any of the events I participated in: THANK YOU! You make me feel secure in the decision I took to focus on my art.
EPN: Where can people see your art work online?
EPN: How can others support you and your art?
JM: Buying my art would be a good start, but I am also would love for my work to help in dialogue regarding issues in the borderlands. Invite me to speak with your students, conduct a workshop or to create a pop-up.
EPN: How are you and your work celebrating Pride?
JM: I celebrate Pride every day of my life. I think once a queer person can transcend macho culture and the gatekeepers in the art scene, we tap into our collective brilliance. Particularly this year, I am celebrating with an exhibit at the Construct Collective and helping the Briar Patch recruit queer/lgbtq artists for some fun art shows this summer.
Montoya was recently invited by Angel Cabrales, a sculpture professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, and the director and one of the founders of Construct Collective, for an exhibit at their gallery space in celebration of Pride month. Cabrales said Construct Collective was created “to provide a space that would give sculptors have a space to work out of once they graduated.” According to Cabrales, they moved into the space in March 2021 and had their their soft opening on International Sculpture Day on April 24th. Cabrales said the Collective followed COVID protocols and social distancing when they opened.
He said members of the Collective take turns exhibiting in the space’s small front gallery where each member gets a month to exhibit their work. Cabrales decided to offer his slot to Montoya and Caldera. He stated: “I gave up my slot to have them exhibit their work.”
Montoya said he invited another queer artist to exhibit with him, Gerardo Caldera. Montoya said he will be “exhibiting a mixture of photography, body art, and pastel work.” He said Caldera is a costume and clothing designer and he will be displaying some of his work. Their exhibit is titled “Sin Miego” (Without Fear). Montoya seeks to create more opportunities for “other queer artists and shift the cultural narrative in the borderlands and what better way to celebrate Pride.”
What, Where, When: In celebration of Pride, the Construct Collective presents “Sin Miedo: Works by José Montoya and Gerardo Caldera,” by @el_hedonista and @gcalderaa in their front room gallery. The exhibit opens June 18th from 6 to 9 p.m. Construct Collective is located at 2131 Texas Street. The Collective is also running a GoFundMe effort to raise funds to offset the costs of the running the space. Please consider donating to this important art space.
And if Montoya’s upcoming two-person exhibit at Construct Collective was not enough, he is also working with the Briar Patch Bar in Pride Square to install several art installments.
Currently, several of Montoya’s works are also on display at the Briar Patch where he is exhibiting with two other LGBTQ artists: “Jose, the Human Boy,” and “Quick and Dirty.” He said he is also brainstorming ideas with the Briar for an end-of-summer show that will include more artists from the community as well as pop-up markets. He said he will be revealing the details soon!
Art work and “Sin Miedo” poster courtesy and with permission of Artist José Montoya.