(Originally published 2014 in Humboldt State University’s newspaper, The Lumberjack).
Humberto Montano grew up in a rough neighborhood where people put their energy into either graffiti or gangs.
Montano was more interested in art than violence and that led him away from the gang-life and towards the spray can. Now, he’s a junior at Humboldt State University in the Honors Painting Program.
“I want to do fine art, but with graffiti influence,” Montano said. “Right now I am just trying to figure out how to bring them both together. I am trying to collaborate with real people, with real art and have them both hand-in-hand and help people get a feel for it.”
Originally from Wilmington, Calif., Montano first became interested in art through graffiti when he was in the eighth grade.
“Growing up in Wilmington it was either gangs or graffiti to put your energy into. Already hearing my uncle’s stories about gang life, I knew that was not a lifestyle that I wanted to get into,” Montano said.
He started taking art classes in high school and became involved in Urban Arts, a program that works to encourage graffiti, or “street artists” to pursue their interest through fine art, rather than vandalism.
Thanks to his advanced placement art teachers’ guidance, Montano knew that he wanted to pursue a degree in art.
He enrolled at HSU in 2011. After completing advanced painting, he applied to the Honors Painting Program.
Theresa Stanley, head of the program, said it gives serious students a chance to build a portfolio to showcase their work. It also prepares them for graduate school and teaches them about being a professional artist. The students are given a space to work freely and each week, they get together to give critiques on each others work and discuss events in the art world.
“Humberto is unique in the ways in which he incorporates his city life into an art form. Although he lived in a not-so-beautiful part of the city, he was able to see beauty in the murals and spray painting of graffiti art,” Stanley said. “He uses his talent as a window to show experiences via art, which people read through their own lenses.”
Montano’s most recent project focused on his attempt to bring graffiti art to HSU. He hopes to give students the chance to experience the feeling of being a street artist. He placed a blank canvas behind the art building and spray painted (tagged) his art name “AMOE,” then crossed it out. In the graffiti-art world, a crossed out name is an invitation for others to tag the same area.
For Montano, graffiti is more about the action than the art. It involves risk, and there are consequences if you are caught.
“Taking that risk, writing over someone else’s work, knowing that your piece is not necessarily going to stay there forever — that whole understanding is what I am trying to do with this project,” Montano said.
The project was about introducing the experience of graffiti as a collaborative art form. Now Montano is refining the tagged canvas into a personalized piece of fine art.
Honors Painting student Jeremy Owen said he appreciated his friend’s effort to introduce people to unfamiliar art.
“There is usually a stigma behind graffiti,” Owen said. “It was interesting to see people getting involved in something they usually probably would not be comfortable doing. Knowing Humberto’s history and enthusiasm, I know the end piece will be great.”
Montano is double majoring in art education and studio art. His goal is to one day teach and influence aspiring painters the way his teachers inspired him. He hopes to show that street art can be considered a legitimate form—it is all about your intentions.
“That’s the main thing I wanted to get to people,” Montano said. “If your intent is right, and solid, than you can do anything.”