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Works of Passion

Interviewing Tucson artist David Tineo is an extreme sport--more whitewater rafting than making conversation. Ask him a question, and you'll be instantly overwhelmed by the speed, length and enthusiasm of his answers, all of which point to a man who loves what he does. "Art is who I am," he says. "It's what's inside of me."

Now 49 ("Some other reporter asked me how old I was today," he says, "so I'm 49, if you want to know"), it's been inside him all of his life. Born in Douglas, Tineo says he knew he could paint by the age of 3 1/2; he was later lucky enough to have an elementary school teacher who gave him even greater confidence.

"Her name was Dorothy Clark," he says. "Back in those years, I didn't speak English, and in the early '60s they would punish you if you didn't speak English, hit you with rulers. But in her classroom, she didn't do that. She noticed that I was very visual, so she used artwork to get me excited about learning. When I first began to get recognized in the mid-'80s, when lots of articles were being written about me, this elderly lady came up to me with a watercolor, and it was her, and she'd saved my watercolor for me from second grade because she said she knew I would be recognized. She always used to tell me I would be someone in the art world."

Tineo in turn gave back to his old school by teaching a mural workshop there in 1984. "Giving back," he says, "that's the beauty of when someone helps you. That's what art is about--empowerment."

Tineo dedicates a lot of time to young people, public works and community. He's been an adjunct professor at Pima Community College since 1986; has been involved in setting up scholarship and exchange programs for kids; and began a never-ending series of public works in 1975 that resulted in more than 200 murals all over Tucson--in recreational centers, hospitals and museums, at border crossings and in other countries (Kazakhstan, for example). He's won numerous awards, including the prestigious Robert Rauschenberg Award in 1999, and is also known for his easel work.

"It's art of the heart," Tineo says, "very passionate--they're works of passion, if you want to narrow it down, and it's about people. (My art is) very raw, down-to-earth. I won't take a job if I can't do it the way I think it should be done; I won't compete for a project unless I have the freedom to express it the way I feel it should be expressed. The sincerity of the message and the freedom of the artist to truly take it to that level, if you don't have that, it becomes a question--is it an ad, or is it art?"

Tineo, with 29 years of public involvement behind him, says he's beginning to participate less in public projects these days, choosing instead to focus on restoration work and residencies at local schools.

"There are lots of great artists in this town," Tineo says. "Tucson is very unique that way. It's a tough town to make a living from art in, but it's a great town to look at art and the diversity of artists around. With the many cutbacks in the arts, we have to be very creative to survive; we're always out there looking for support and sponsors to support the arts. The Pima Arts Council does as much as they can, but I don't see a lot of change in the way things are going.

"I'm not trying to make all the children into artists," he continues, "but into a society that appreciates and can support art and artists. The public realizes that it is a profession, there's a lot of discipline, hard work, sacrifice and commitment on the part of the individual. That's where I'm coming from."

You can see Tineo's murals at places such as the UA and the north wall of the Tucson Museum of Art anytime; his latest display of easel-work, Mujeres Y Sus Animalitos (Women and Their Pets), opens with a 7 p.m. reception Saturday, Aug. 7, at Aztlan Artifacts Studio and Gallery.

"Mujeres (women) are in a lot of my work," says Tineo. "They're a strength-symbol; I'm known for that. These paintings have two points of view. A pet is a playmate, but someone you hold at a distance. In one painting, you see the monkey poking at Frida; in another, you see a spider who has the face of Mr. Grijalva (Congressman Raúl Grijalva)--but in a very positive way," Tineo hastens to add, laughing. "The paintings talk about the issues of politics, but also, the movers and shakers in the community are women, so what I do is to poke fun at myself, being a man, and put these paintings in comical situations. But it is up to you to interpret the piece."

Mujeres Y Sus Animalitos will be on display through Aug. 28. Aztlan Artifacts is located at 519 N. Fourth Ave.; gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call the always-helpful Tanya Alvarez--an artist in her own right--at 207-3372.

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