Melia Gutierrez doesn't want to talk about her accolades, or her precociousness in digital art.
So never mind that Yesterday Is History, Tomorrow Is a Mystery, now on display at Domino (which is co-owned by her sister), is the 18-year-old's first solo show. Or that this isn't her first time selling her work; you'd have to go back to elementary school for that, when her principal purchased one of her drawings of a ballerina.
This aspiring comic book artist wants to talk about monsters.
"I really like my monsters with lots of color, because it kind of resembles my life. Not that I'm a dark and demented person ..." she says, dropping her voice an octave. "Monsters are really kind of ugly on the outside — but the colors express a lot of emotion, and there's a lot more to them."
And there are monsters everywhere.
"If you look at an enchilada from On the Border, it looks like a giant worm," Gutierrez explains. The restaurant was the inspiration for "The Guac Worm," a drawing featuring a giant worm with pie eyes about to be eaten by a mustached man with a gold tooth. (She drew the worm first and later changed it so it was groveling in lime green guacamole after her friend Jack made an offhand remark about Chipotle and the "delicious-ness of their guacamole.")
Without question, Gutierrez's vibrant artwork — started with pencil and ink on paper, then scanned and colored digitally — can lean toward the surreal and grotesque. A poster she created for the spring art show at Fountain-Fort Carson High School depicts a woman who, in place of a head, has sprouted an octopus arm and green vegetation, and stands clutching an oozing tube of magenta paint in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. Green, blue and yellow circles splash across the background.
Recently, she was chosen as one of the area's best high school artists in Wunderkind 2011, a competitive juried exhibition at the Business of Art Center showcasing the work of 12 high school juniors and seniors. Next fall, she plans to attend the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in Denver, with the help of a $40,000 scholarship.
In the meantime, she enjoys support for her work from her Fountain-Fort Carson teachers.
"She's such a sweet, innocent girl," says Suzanne Hewett, a printmaking teacher there, "yet there are these scary, surreal images that come out of her mind."
Gutierrez insists she's a happy person. Though she admits having gone through an "emo stage," she prefers to be cheerful and says her favorite pictures in the show are the ones with the most color. She says the pieces most people seem drawn to, however, are the gruesome and slightly demented ones, like the picture of a sad old lady in a mask, taut wires hooked into her skin.
Some of those images aren't conjured up purely from her own imagination, but have an origin in real-life horror. She drew one of the darker pieces in her show after watching a video of the Vietnam War in history class. She was struck by an image of conjoined twins, connected at the stomach, born to a mother who had been exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange. Gutierrez exaggerated the grotesqueness of the image and added very little color to it, creating a bleak impression of the devastating consequences of chemical warfare.
Her work shows impressive depth and talent. But she thinks people like it mostly because it's different.
"I don't think it's necessarily skill," she says, "but more so, originality."