Harold Cortes


I was born in Cali, Colombia on June 11th, 1958. I began my artistic career in my teens cutting emeralds, then studied jewelry design at SENA in Cali, Colombia and painting at The School for the Arts, also in Cali. I learned to speak English and had my own shop selling my handmade jewlry to mostly American tourists. I designed jewelry for Miss Colombia for the Pan American Beauty Pageant in 1979 and received favorable attention in the press.

On his 27th birthday I immigrated to the United States. I worked in jewelry design making costume jewelry for the Broadway Show Gypsy and for Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1988 I was diagnosed with AIDS and put my full attention to painting. I collaborated with my partner, Gregory Maskwa on several mural works:

- In the 1987 Kip's Bay Show my mural work for the Starry Night Garden Room was published in the New York Times.

- Other murals appeared in House Beautiful and Casa magazines

- I also helped to design and paint the Official Commemorative Silk Scarf celebrating Queen Elizabeth's Fortieth Year on the Throne. The scarf was reproduced and sold at Buckingham Palace and Neiman Marcus.

In 1995 as a member of The AIDS Theatre Project I painted sets for their Broadway production of Facing the Journey at The Roundabout Theatre. As a cast member of the company and for my artistic contributions I was awarded a plaque of the Presidential Proclamation for World AIDS Day in 1994 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. signed by President Clinton.

I was one of 16 artists chosen to exhibit for the Visual AIDS installation at the opening of a new building for God's Love We Deliver, an AIDS service organization and participated in ceremonies for World AIDS Day 1996.

This tribute page was created by Visual AIDS


I try to express the impact that AIDS has had on my life and beliefs through painting. My intention is not only to show the devastation that this disease causes but also to awaken people from ignorance and discrimination. My acrylic paintings are highly stylized and I use the red ribbon symbolically in thought provoking environments composed of monochromatic color schemes of grays and reds. I seek to reveal the truth and to confront a nation's denial and lies about AIDS. But what is true and what is a lie is left up to the jury of viewers to decide.