Local Arts

On the Charlotte mural tour: Nico Amortegui, enhancing ‘beauty that’s already there’

Artist Nico Amortegui with some of his work at Salud in NoDa.
Artist Nico Amortegui with some of his work at Salud in NoDa. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Nico Amortegui brings the distinction of his home country to Charlotte in his artwork. Born and raised in Colombia before coming to the United States in the ’90s, Amortegui uses bright colors and unique shapes – and resists the title of muralist. “I just like to paint big,” he says.

His latest “big” painting in Charlotte was finished in June, and can be seen in the back hallway of NoDa’s Salud Beer Shop.

One side of the hallway feels as if you’re in an art museum or in a children’s cartoon. Three large paintings depict fruits: an apple, a watermelon and a banana – his daughters’ favorites. He was inspired by Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s lack of art galleries. “Galleries are very limited and they all turn to bars in the end,” Amortegui says. “NoDa used to be a gallery place. Now the only art you can find is in boutiques, and it’s like an extra thing they put on the walls.”

On the opposite side, one gets a glimpse into the lives of three men, each alone in their homes, inspired by people Amortegui saw on their front porches each day as he drove through neighborhoods. One man has a beer, one’s with his dog, one is sleeping in his bed. “I felt like the guy drinking the beer … that’s the life … Then the dog represents his love, it’s a connection with something else besides himself. And then the guy sleeping in the bed is actually dreaming. To me that’s what the meaning of life is: You live, you love and you dream.”

At the end of the hallway, stairs lead to the taproom of Salud Cerveceria. These stairs are a different world from the rest of the mural, transforming the walls and ceiling into “crazy” black and white lines. “The idea was to create something that makes you feel uncomfortable,” says Amortegui. He says this part captures the distress he feels about today’s political climate.

Some of Amortegui’s other works can be seen at Get Fit Foods, Three Amigos Grill Cantina and Sabor Latin Street Grill. He also has murals in Winston-Salem, Washington, Israel, Peru and Nicaragua. “Art enhances the beauty that’s already there,” he says of murals. “Most people see an ugly wall. To an artist, it’s an amazing wall.”

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