Behind the Art: Introducing Ray Montenegro

I don’t have the empirical data to prove it but my gut tells me most artists crave recognition.

No, I’m not suggesting that contemporary painters are dying to be named the “new Basquiat” or the “new Warhol.” But what’s the point of toiling away for hours on paintings if no one in the world knows about it? Plus, being famous sure helps getting more sales, not to mention invites to all the hottest parties in town.

Irony abounds. In my case, despite the fact that I have appeared on national TV shows dozens of times and have been featured in publications like USA Today and Wall Street Journal for my exploits as a journalist, financial analyst and musician, I wanted anonymity.

See, I had taken a 45-year break from the visual arts. So, when I got back into it, I wanted to get honest feedback from friends, fellow artists and gallery owners.

That’s why I created my alter ego, Ray Montenegro, as my painting name. In fact, one of my very early paintings is titled “Introducing Ray Montenegro.”

Here’s the thing. It started off as both an inside joke as well as a satirical self portrait that also was a bit of a mash up. Let me explain.

Back in my musician days, I began to wear a lot of jewelry so I would have plenty of bling on stage. I also rarely leave the house without wearing one of my fedoras.

This painting combines elements of Warhol, Klee and jazz great Duke Ellington. From Warhol, I got the idea of using four hands with different vivid colors as he did in one of his pop art paintings.

I then made the rings you see on each hand from a brass rod I sawed down to size and then glued stones on them. For the glasses, I got some round mirrors and glued them on the canvas. And then I hung a gold chain with a guitar on it that had lots of fake diamonds to give it extra bling.

I gave the character in the painting a small fedora reminiscent of one I wore a lot at the time. And at my wife’s suggestion, I added a feather. The face is done in broad outlines to suggest jaws, a nose and mouth.

And the inscription on the canvas brings it all together. I altered a famous quote by Ellington that “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I substituted the word “bling.”

This was one of the first paintings I ever did, and I’m pleased to say I got great reaction from friends and professional artists who came to the house for dinner. And that became my routine four four years — avoiding the limelight as I created a series of paintings known for bold colors and big ideas.

This also explains why I never signed those paintings. You can’t fly under the radar if you are telling everyone who’ll listen that you are the artist of that painting.

Take a look at the painting and video here.