Roberto Gil de Montes is truly a citizen of the world.
The 62-year-old artist -- whose first solo show in nearly 10 years opens at Bergamot Station’s Lora Schlesinger Gallery on Saturday -- was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and as a teenager, his family lived in East Los Angeles. He's spent the last nine years living in the small beach town of Nayarit and in Echo Park, where he still keeps a home, while also traveling extensively throughout India and Europe for inspiration, he said.
All the while, Gil de Montes -- who’s exhibited his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Phoenix Museum and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, among other places -- has been creating figurative paintings, sculptures, ceramic works and photographs that reflect his shifting environments and question his own cultural identity within them.
The landscapes of Guadalajara and East L.A. in the '60s and '70s, however -- sunlit and shot through with vibrant colors -- particularly inform his work. His upcoming show, "Hecho en México" ["Made in Mexico"], will feature paintings and chalk pastels. It runs April 5 to May 17.
"There is something symbolic about retreating and pulling back from the scene and returning to where I grew up to show my work," he said in a statement. "I didn't know where this discovery would take me. I was able to put a part of my own history and childhood into my paintings -- a sort of homage to the artist I wanted to be as child."
Gil de Montes gave us his thoughts ahead of Saturday's opening.
How has travel -- and the very different cultures you’ve traversed -- influenced your work?
"I'm interested in how people live in different parts of the world, their food, music, language and art. Travel makes me forget who I am, I feel like I am in a dream, it goes with me being into fantasy. I was in a taxi in Nepal, I fell asleep and woke up in a paper factory. The driver knew I was an artist and took me there. ... It was magical."
Has age mellowed your wanderlust at all -- and does that put you in a different place, artistically?
"I am definitely more reflective, I am in a good spiritual space in my life."
Tell us about your last solo show in L.A.
"My last exhibit was at the Jan Baum Gallery in 2005. It was an exhibit of works from while living in San Francisco. The content varied but the overall concept was the potential of evil in humans. My works were paintings and drawings."
Why did you wait 10 years to put up another solo show?
"Jan Baum retired and the gallery closed, and after that I went to Amsterdam, Spain and Morocco. Prior to moving to Mexico. I showed in a group show at Jan Baum's before she retired."
After all these years, and while living in Mexico, you still keep a place in Echo Park? What draws you to the area?
"Echo Park is one of the most unique and dynamic neighborhoods in the U.S., and I have been there through the '80s and have seen its transformation."
As an artist, you're also an observer of L.A. -- which, itself, has changed so greatly over the years. What inspires you now, about the Los Angeles landscape?
"Latino culture USA influences everything Mexican -- music, art, fashion. There is no border when it comes to Mexican-U.S. culture."
Where have you not traveled/lived/painted that you would like to?
"I have not been to Istanbul."