After 52 years in Denver's penetrating, inner city atmosphere of parking lots, bail bondsmen, crime and pollution, Orlando Lujan Martinez and his 80-year-old father packed their goods and left their downtown digs headed for el Valle de San Luis.
His new home in Alamosa was at once familiar and comforting. It was, he said, as if he had finally come home. Although Orlando was born and raised in Denver, both parents were from the Valley, many of his relatives were living here and he had heard about and visited the great San Luis Valley all his life.
As an architectural illustrator in Denver, Orlando was an artist in search of a theme. Since his arrival in the Valley, he has found a wealth of subject matter in people and places that make up his rediscovered home. His medium, watercolor, suits not only the flavor of the Hispanic culture, but also his own philosophy and lifestyle.
Most of his Valley scenes are gentle still lifes of adobe houses, churches and villages with either the Sangre de Cristos or the San Juans as a backdrop. Occasionally, such as the cover watercolor of the "Count of Costilla County," he paints people. "The Count" has a surrealistic quality, yet it still manages to capture, primarily through the use of black-and-white, the essence and character of a southern Colorado Hispanic gentleman.
Surprisingly, Orlando ranks his art as secondary in his life. His love of nature and his affection for people are primary. He is fascinated by people and is continually amazed at the beauty in and around the Valley.
With just the slightest provocation, in the style of a grand storyteller, he embellishes the sights and sounds of his world and recites passages from the collected works of his deeds and misdeeds.
"People sometimes can't understand me," he said, because I'm different, unique." His uniqueness is immediately apparent in his speech and mannerisms. He punctuates his words with broad hand gestures and phrases such as, "Get that!" Contrary to his own perceptions of himself, he is a holdover from the Beat Generation and could well have been one of Kerouac's cohorts. He is a refreshing anachronism.
Orlando's art education is a mixed bag of street and academic training. In Denver he lived just two blocks from the Denver Art Museum. His first memorable art experience came at seven years old.
"Me and a friend, Freddie Kramer, use to go up to the fourth floor of the Art Museum and look at paintings. Freddie and I use to sit hypnotized in front of the paintings, especially this one, Winslow Homer's 'Gulf Stream.' That was my first real relationship with art. I realized then he was a great artist. That painting, I think, is now in the Chicago Institute of Art."
His formal training as an artist came at the University of Colorado, Rocky Mountain School of Art and the Colorado Institute of Art. His informal training came on the streets of Denver through the traditional vices of street life. Orlando says it was his Spanish-Tewa Indian heritage and his own self-regard that prevented him from joining many of his friends in the gutter. Also, five years ago, he passed through the San Luis Valley and felt a need to paint and preserve what he saw. It was only a matter of time before he returned to stay.
"As an artist," he said, "I have a need to be recognized by my friends and respected by other artists. I've experienced nothing but good luck since coming to the Valley. I'm not a great materialist. I have a need to work with and serve people."
Orlando is currently teaching watercolor classes through Alamosa School District's Community Education program. His studio is located on the second floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building at Cole Park. One-man shows of his work are scheduled this summer June 13-24 at the Hatfield Gallery at Adams State College; July 4-16 at the Creede Repertory Theatre; and August 4-12 at the Rio Grande Arts Center Gallery.
Reprinting of article, "The Return of Orlando Lujan Martinez" from the Summer/Fall 1983 issue of Alma Magazine by A. Rooney