Charlotte local and self-taught artist Nico Amortegui – better known as MALO, shares stories of his muses through his art in a remarkably raw, unforgettable fashion.

interview by ciara bird / photographs by joshua galloway

Do you remember your first encounter with art? What was it like? When I was little we lived at my grandma’s house and I used to watch my uncle Pablo paint everyday.

Are you self-taught or did you study to become an artist? I am self-taught, but I do enjoy studying independently.

Tell us about your family and your upbringing. We are a pretty tight-knit family. Every other person in my family is an artist. I grew up in a world that was chaotic, but at the same time full of amazing stories about my grandpa’s adventures and legends of native tribes in Colombia.

What are your parents like? Do they like your work? My mom is a very creative person, I grew up watching her create artwork to sell in the streets; my dad is creative but more in a structural way; he’s an architect so I believe my work has been influenced by him on composition. Now they are pretty supportive – it took a bit before they came around. I can imagine most parents would not be thrilled if their child said, “I’m going to be an artist” – as it creates an image of a job/life that never pays!

What mediums do you work with? I tend to work with acrylics and oil pastels, but I love trying new materials – almost like a mad scientist trying to discover something new.

How long did it take before you began to find your own style? I haven’t been painting for that long, so I’m still in the process of finding and creating a style that represents me.

Who are the subjects in your paintings? I paint people who have influenced the course of my life maybe not directly or even significantly, but it’s as if I’m working from my childhood to the present, telling the story of the people who have crossed my path.

Do you see your work relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? I get a lot of the street style, but I paint things how I see them – raw, which is how life really is. I try not to get too involved in what the art culture or movement is at the moment since I paint to tell a story and not to please others.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects? I usually work on a few at a time, but the biggest one right now is a series of paintings (around 4×6 feet) that tell the story of wide-spread corruption in a beautiful country in the ’80s.

What’s the greatest challenge for you with the creation of a new piece of work? Budget! I like trying new materials, but often times the money part doesn’t allow me to continue or even to start.

Describe the circumstances when you were working on “blank”. Was it planned? My work is energy-based. I try not to have a theme or an idea since that can disrupt the flow. I start by adding color and let the painting create itself. I am the instrument that helps her to come alive.

How did the internet change the world of art? It definitely created wide-spread exposure for many talented, but undiscovered artists—a way for new, up & coming artists to be seen without being part of a gallery or agent. It has transformed the art world to a digital gallery inundated with amazing art that most of us would have never had the opportunity to see.

What was the last experience that totally blew your mind? When I first sold a painting for $6000. It was surreal to think that something I created was valued and purchased for more money than the car I drive. To this day I find it enigmatic!

Name three things you love and three you hate. Meeting people of other cultures; a good party; and people hating my work since it takes more energy to hate something than to like it. It means I am creating a piece that can cause an effect and that means I am doing my part as an artist. I’m not much of hater, but… I dislike when people ask me if I speak ‘Mexican’ and I don’t like the fact that potatoes take so long to cook.  /
This interview was conducted summer 2013.

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