As David Tineo walks into the Contreras Gallery he is met with a room full of bold, bright paintings including a giant mural painted on the back wall. From the entrance it is impossible for the legally blind Tineo to make out most of the details in these paintings. Fortunately, he has not come to examine the works of art. He’s the one who painted them.
“Las Metiches” is Tineo’s second exhibit since 2004 when he found out that he had macular degeneration, a disease that could eventually steal his eyesight completely. Upon being diagnosed, Tineo went through a three-month period of despair but quickly changed his perspective of the situation.
“We all get depressed. You have two choices: Roll up and crawl in a corner, or do something about it,” he says. “I thought, ‘Am I going to waste my time and worry so much that I don’t get anything done, or am I going to keep painting?’ ”
By making small adjustments to the technical aspects of his painting, such as lining up paints in a specific order to designate color, Tineo was soon able to adapt to his new lifestyle and began developing his new form of creation.
Tineo’s new works are unique in that many of them are composed of much thicker paint than his previous works, sometimes protruding over a quarter inch off the canvas. He also has begun using much broader and sweeping brushstrokes, paying less attention to detail and simplifying his images. Another addition is Tineo’s use of physical objects in his paintings. For example, Tineo’s recent painting “Artista Chicano” integrates pieces of wood from the desk in his studio, a paintbrush and newspapers that he found around his house.
“I’m dealing more with having the viewer interact with the surface quality,” Tineo says.
As he continued to harness his new style, Tineo realized that his lack of eyesight had, in fact, not hindered him, but instead served as a catalyst to his natural evolution as an artist. Due to his fading eyesight, Tineo found that he had developed a more acute sense of smell, hearing and awareness that he believes has contributed to his new collection of paintings.
“The losing of my sight has guided me in a certain direction. When you look in art history, when you look at Monet and you look at other artists, they all had their difficulties, too,” Tineo observes. “I have been given a great gift. I don’t see this as an obstacle, but as a gift.”
Tineo is not the only one who has come to accept his loss of eyesight as a blessing rather than a curse. E. Michael Contreras, co-owner of Contreras Gallery, finds that not only has Tineo’s artwork become more popular, but that his new style has thrust him into a more sophisticated level of creation.
“The thick paint and tactile that he’s using is really artistic,” Contreras says. “It has this older classical style like Picasso or impressionism.”
But don’t think Tineo’s fading eyesight has not come without its share of inaccuracies. His homemade canvases have started to lose the precise measurements they once had, yet to his surprise, they have grown in popularity.
“My canvases are not square. I am beginning to notice that at a certain scale my squareness is off because my sight is totally gone,” he says, laughing. “But people love it. People say, ‘I want that. It’s a Tineo!’ ”
His current exhibit, “Las Metiches,” or “Busy Bodies,” attempts to convey the incredible power of direct words and interactions in a society overwhelmed with mass, impersonal communication. Tineo, who has taught and worked with children for the majority of his 30-year Tucson painting career, uses his experience as a teacher to illustrate this power of communication.
“What you say, how you encourage or discourage, will greatly impact a child throughout their life,” Tineo says. “You can break a bone and it will mend, but what you say to someone that impacts their mind can handicap them for the rest of their life.”
Tineo’s titular painting, “Metiches,” illustrates two women. One of the women appears to be violently spewing a river of dark, goopy paint that flows down, transforming into a snake at the bottom of the canvas. The second woman is shrouded in cool tones of blue and wears an expression of defeat and despair.
“People talk about people as perceptions. They hear people are a certain way, and the more they talk the more far-fetched it becomes, so it’s ‘Metiches,’ the talks and conversations,” Tineo says. “(Words) can grow into a serpent that can eat you up.”
To the right of “Metiches” is a painting featuring a masked man surrounded by women. One woman is blowing a current of white paint that stands off the canvas while two others are adorned with thickly painted angel wings. “Mujeres de mi Vida,” represents some of the women who have influenced Tineo’s paintings, as well as the veiled reality of the artist.
“In being known and popular, you have stories go around about the artist, the romanticism of the artist,” Tineo says. “Certain pieces talk about these perceptions of the artist. ‘Oh, he’s like this and this is going on.’ When in reality, if I had that kind of time where would I find the time to paint?”
Alongside “Las Metiches” exhibit is a retrospective view of Tineo’s paintings from the past. Many of these are portraits of strong cultural women. As one of seven children raised by a determined single mother, Tineo was inspired at an early age by the strength and courage that women possess.
“Women became a very important part of my art. As I grew in my career I’ve had many female relationships,” he says. “A lot of these women have been very supportive. They’ve inspired me; they’ve given me tenacity and passion.”
Tineo also portrays women in his paintings as symbols of creation and rebirth, reasoning that without women there is no life.
Since his eyesight faded, Tineo has moved away from portraiture but recently revisited the style in the painting “Techi,” to prove to himself that despite his failing eyesight, he could still convey detailed expression.
As for the progression of Tineo’s artwork in the event that his sight continues to fade, he says he will return to his past passion of working with ceramics. Regardless of Tineo’s artistic medium, he is sure his art will continue to be distinctive.
“A year from now my work may be totally different, but you will know it’s a Tineo from the feel. You’ll feel something,” he says. “That’s the common thread – emotion and quality.”
Tineo’s persistent determination and the success of his artwork in “Las Metiches” in the face of such great adversity is no surprise to Contreras.
“He’s done this all his life,” he says. “I’m sure he can paint blindfolded. It’s in his mind, and it just comes out of him naturally.”
Tineo himself is confident about his ability despite what obstacles he may have to overcome in the future.
“It reaffirms that I was given a gift. I was born with a gift, the gift of painting,” he says. “I work every day like there is no tomorrow because I may not have tomorrow. My eyesight may drop tomorrow.”
More important to Tineo than the art itself, however, is the impression that is left with the viewer. He hopes people will take away more from his art than the technical appearance of his paintings.
“What remains is our impact and relationships as artists,” he says. “This is what we try to communicate, in sacred voices. What we speak becomes what you act on. You are creating an energy. It can be positive or negative. It’s up to each of us to put forth words that are positive. Words become seeds which become actions and movement.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Las Metiches” art exhibit by David Tineo
When: through Aug. 30
Where: Contreras Gallery, 110 E. Sixth St. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Info: 398-6557, www.contrerashousefineart.com