Interview: Ivan Montoya on his debut exhibition, “Semillas” representing his immigrant experience

Interview: Ivan Montoya on his debut exhibition, “Semillas” representing his immigrant experience

In Ivan Montoya’s solo exhibition, Semillas, paintings explore the dynamics between first and second-generation immigrants and their ancestors. As the Spanish word for “seeds,” Semillas refers both to the children of immigrants and the inherited or observed values passed onto their descendants as they build their life on new soil. The exhibition opens at PLAYGROUND DETROIT (2845 Gratiot Ave, Detroit, MI) on October 22, 2022 and runs through November 19, 2022.

Through the transition of immigration, families are forced to reapproach how surroundings and social dynamics are approached. In doing so, the relationships between the different members of a unit are tested through growing pains and inherent change. Montoya’s paintings visually represent moments in the difficult cultivation of a promising future, the irrigation of mentalities and values, and the harvesting of possibilities.

From the artist: 

“My cultural identity is the core of what I am trying to understand and make peace with. I’ve grown up in two worlds and I don’t always feel like I belong to one or the other too firmly. So to me, understanding how I’ve been molded by both is super important to how I communicate and create, especially because of how many other people feel like I do.

I hope that painting moments in this ethereal in-between space makes others feel understood and seen. My heritage also has informed the language of colors and flavors that resonate with me. There are so many beautiful aspects of my heritage that I can’t help but want to share with others. Emotionally, it is a necessity for me to pour what I know and love about my Mexican roots and the broader Latin-American community into my work.”

Detail view: Setting the Altar, Acrylic on wood panel, 2022, Ivan Montoya

Read on for our interview with Ivan Montoya as he prepares for his upcoming exhibition, Semillas.

When did you know you were/wanted to be an artist?

I grew up surrounded by creativity and expression. My Mother is a singer and my uncle was studying art in my childhood, and they came from a family of musicians- so creative expression was always welcome. Around the age of 5 or 6, I decided I wanted to make animated movies and it was always something generally in that space, from graphic designer to illustrator. Eventually, I found painting to be the most fluid format for the things I wanted to share.

What concept or theme and medium are you most interested in?

Most recently, I’ve really enjoyed finding the folklore we create about ourselves and where we come from. The stories we tell ourselves about the dynamics in our social lives, the soil in which we build roots in, and how we understand ourselves through the histories of our ancestors are all super mystical spaces to me that I find the most fascinating and colorful. Trying to grasp at those things through the alchemy of painting light and color is super exciting right now.

I paint using acrylic paints because I love toggling between opaque and transparent applications. The drying time and flexibility to add other mediums also lends itself to the fluidity of thought when I’m making a piece.. 

Recently completed public mural for CityWalls Detroit, in Detroit, MI. (Instagram)

What is it about murals that is most interesting to you? What is the biggest challenge?

Painting a mural that works with the space it exists in, while simultaneously speaking to the people that commute around it always requires collaboration and thinking broader than I typically do compared to when painting smaller. Each mural provides a new outlook or set of skills that I’m always excited to bring back into the studio.

I also love immersing myself in the ecosystem surrounding the wall for a small period of time. You really get to know the people that walk near it, the patterns of the bugs and animals that live around it, and the sounds of the space.  The biggest challenge outside of the physical requirements and logistics is probably the doubt that comes with creating something that is so public and will most likely last a long time. 

Photography credit @samanthaslist

How does the process begin, and how long do your compositions take to create from concept to execution? 

The process is always a bit sporadic. Sometimes a conversation, a song, nature documentaries, or a book spark some sort of question that I end up drawing about in my sketchbook. Typically with a Palomino blackwing pencil and a Large sketchbook. I then draw the same concept in a variety of points of views and eventually land on a graphically appealing view of a subject.

I feel like I think in terms of film stills or storyboards- given that the main way I learned  to communicate was through TV + movies. Those drawings eventually find themselves on a panel, I use the colors that are the most exciting to me at any given time, or the colors that lend themselves to a specific lighting scenario, and it takes anywhere from three days to two weeks to finish a piece. 

Photography credit @samanthaslist

What is the main difference between your mural and painting?

There’s a bit more freedom in the painting work I do. I paint to understand or spend time with a subject that maybe I want to find more clarity in. There’s also the craft of making a painting and  taking the medium as far as I can, this is super rewarding for me.

Making a mural for me I think has less freedom in the sense that it’s usually a collaboration with the patron or the people who will interact with the wall, but is more rewarding in the sense

What inspires you?

Generally speaking, I find inspiration in moments of wonder or absolute truthfulness. Things that unexpectedly make you move to tears or make you loose sense of time like a connection with another person or standing in front of a painting at a museum or a song that hits just the right way. I want to make something that evokes something like that. Specifically, I find inspiration in observing natural light in nature, learning about anthropology and the natural world, and cooking or dining with friends and family.  

Photography credit @samanthaslist

Has the concept or theme that your work revolves around evolved over time?

I think there’s a thematic direction that I’m moving towards that gets more clear and specific as I grow in my craft and the language of painting. I’d say in regards to clarity and approach it has evolved but not so much in theme.

What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?

The constant drawing and exploring in my sketchbook has been the most successful aspect of my process. It all starts there, whether it be for a mural or a painting or no project in particular. My sketchbook helps me maintain my sanity and gives me a place to align my thoughts.

Photography credit, @samanthaslist

What else are you working on or looking forward to in the near future?

I’m painting more murals in Detroit and more paintings in my studio! I look forward to making more immersive experiences with my work, and hopefully painting internationally! I’m also working on being more present and generally a better human.

How long have you lived in Detroit?  

I’ve been studying and working in Detroit for nine years and living in the city for three years.

Does the city have any influence on your work or subject matter/style/approach? If so, please explain. 

I think the energy and tenacity is the most infectious. Seeing how hard my peers and the creative community works is so inspiring. I want to help add to that because it’s definitely inspired me to keep making and creating regardless of the circumstances. I’ve learned so much from people all over the city; Detroit has influenced my approach and attitude of being a creative professional. 

Anything you would like to add? 

Be good to each other, ask questions, stay silly.

Join us for the public Opening Reception of Semillas, on Saturday, October 22nd, from 6-9pm at 2845 Gratiot Avenue.

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