Tammy Ortegon sits in the client chair of her art gallery/beauty salon.
Tammy Ortegon wants to make the world a better place – one haircut at a time.
For eight years Ortegon has been building community in her Kingfield neighborhood by bringing together her two great loves: cutting people’s hair, and making art. Her business, the Color Wheel Gallery, displays art and sells gifts made almost entirely by herself and other artists in her neighborhood. But she says the gallery wouldn’t get by if it weren’t for the salon chair sitting in back where Ortegon cuts and styles hair.
The barber shop has traditionally been a space where people come together to talk and share ideas, or simply vent about their lives. Some people don’t even notice the art when they come here, other people get their hair cut here precisely because it’s a gallery.
Ortegon regularly shows the artwork of area youth.
Ortegon doesn’t just sell artwork by local artists; she gets the neighborhood youth involved with an annual show featuring the work of teenage artists. And for eight years she’s put on an exhibition around Mothers’ Day called “Fight Like a Mother.” She says the artwork celebrates what it means to be a mother, with images ranging from the precious and tender to the brash and political. The exhibition is accompanied by spoken word performances.
I like to use my gifts in all different ways to allow people to understand that art is of the people and for the people… to make art accessible to everyone, because we come together through art. Art is not only beautiful but it makes you think about things in a new way.
Because of that belief, I often choose art work that might not sell as well, but will inspire a reaction and a conversation.
Ortegon’s salon is a colorful work of art in its own right, with homages to artists like Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh.
It’s hard to imagine someone could walk into Color Wheel Gallery and not see the art, but then sometimes people see only what they want to. Ortegon, who sells her artwork at art fairs, says she often gets complaints about the number of “brown faces” in her artwork. She says one person asked her bluntly “don’t you like white people?” For Ortegon, artwork is a way of depicting the world she wants to celebrate and be a part of, and that includes cultural diversity.
If you go into a lot of galleries you can’t tell their politics – that’s good business. But I feel I have a responsibility and an obligation, because I feel so strongly about my morals… I can’t remain neutral.
Sometimes that means people walk into Ortegon’s store and then walk right back out again. A visit to the Color Wheel Gallery’s bathroom reveals a wall covered in political statements, asking provocative questions of a captive audience.
Ortegon displays her own work at the store, including prints of this painting, inspired by Powderhorn Park.
Ortegon says she’s drawn to artwork that is both colorful and engaging, with a story to tell. Her work reflects an interest in folk art, and so do her shows. Currently on display at the Color Wheel Gallery is an exhibition titled “Street Art: The Art of the People” which involves an eclectic array of prints, paintings and jewelry.
Color Wheel Gallery is located at 319 W 46th St in Minneapolis.