As a homesick Colorado College art major, Emilio Lobato found solace at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Having come from the San Luis Valley, where his family has farmed for 16 generations, he loved to visit the museum's displays paying homage to Southwestern traditions of art and faith.
The FAC was "someplace where I could both 'lose' myself and 'find' myself," he e-mails from his current home in Arvada, recalling the alienation he felt in the late 1970s and early 1980s as one of the few Hispanics on campus.
"I could feel 'at home' for a few moments, meditate, pray, and continue to forge ahead. It was a revelation that the FAC was collecting these objects and displaying them as bona fide objects of art, not anthropological curiosities like other institutions. It demonstrated to me that the society and culture those things represent are rich, and important, and form the foundation of my own aesthetic pursuits."
Now, as a 51-year-old, he returns to the FAC with a "dream come true": Emilio Lobato: Mi Linda Soledad (My Beautiful Solitude), a majestic progression from that student's abstract expressionist wanderings to the middle-aged master's mixed-media works.
Lobato juxtaposes history and modernity, isolation and integration, confidence and humility, as well as the geometric and organic, personal and universal, spiritual and physical — often in the same piece. Over these layers both visual and visceral, he superimposes a melancholy, typified in later pieces by the isolated black circle that represents him.
The work draws on the symbols of his faith and the influence of CC art professors Mary Chenoweth and Carl Reed, and Asian philosophy professor Jane Cauvel. Later pieces integrate text in various languages, pages torn from old books that testify to his love for the printed word.
"As a young child, my parents provided us with books, which were worlds that I could escape to," he writes. "They were friends and companions. The antique pages give my work a sense of history, yet the other elements in my work make the piece a 'modern' construct."
FAC curator of Hispanic and Native American art Tariana Navas-Nieves agrees.
"He is an artist who has done a beautiful job of bringing contemporary art and history together in a seamless way, with an impressive technical mastery," she says. "When you have all those elements together, it's magic."
Navas-Nieves met Lobato in 1995 and immediately knew she wanted to show his work. At first, Lobato planned a small show of recent pieces, but Navas-Nieves persuaded him that his creations deserved a grander treatment.
"Making art is all I know how to do," Lobato jokes. "I have not been able to stop it (thankfully). Creativity for me is part calling and part mental illness."