De Pura Cepa: An Interview with Puerto Rican Artist, Amy Ortiz
Hola Delen Readers,
This week we take great pleasure in introducing la artista mas apasionada–the hermosa Amy Ortiz.
DELEN ARTS: Can you please tell us about your cultural background? Where did you grow up?
AMY ORTIZ: I am a native Puerto Rican, de pura cepa. I lived in Ponce, Puerto Rico for the first few years of my life. Soon after we moved to the Bronx. Thankfully we only lived there for a few years. I say thankfully, because I was accustomed to vegetation and wildlife. The Bronx to me was a concrete jungle…lots of tall buildings, asphalt roads and highways. About two years after our stay in New York, we moved to New Jersey. As a kid, I thought…well, at least there are more trees here.
DA: When did you discover your talent for painting?
AO: I first discovered or acknowledged my talent for painting as a teenager while working for the Newark Museum. I had a wonderful supervisor/mentor, named Kelly Vetter, who was the first person to point out I had some ability with a paintbrush. All it took was a bit of encouragement, a few art supplies, exposure to some great museums in the NY/NJ metro area and I was hooked.
DA: Were you inspired by certain art icons like Dali?
AO: It’s funny you should ask. I guess you saw some of Dali’s style and form in my own work. Yes, definitely. Salvador Dali, Frida Khalo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Vincent Van Gogh, are my favorite historical artists. I am captivated time and again by Dali’s brush stroke and use of color, by Khalo’s haunting, yet comforting self-portraits, by O’Keefe’s organic landscapes, and by Van Gogh’s aggressive relationship with the canvas. These artists have been great artistic role models for me.
DA: As a writer, I find that I simply cannot write during a lovely stretch of happiness, too busy living to confine myself within the intense hours of solitude necessary for writing. I tend to write out my unhappiness, even if the writing is journalistic in nature. What is your process for painting? At what emotional state do you walk into it, and how does that change once you complete a piece?
AO: Wow. Good question. I try not to create art when I am depressed or angry. Many people recommend I work out my frustration/sadness in this way, but I’ve been there and done that. Based on my own experiences I can say the work created is interesting and has powerful imagery, but I don’t like revisiting these pieces once created. The paintings usually embody the emotional state I was in while creating it and if I’m not in the best of spirits, then that’s exactly what’s portrayed on canvas. It’s kind of like reliving a bad moment or revisiting a nightmare. You should see my reaction. It’s quite amusing. I’ll display these large-scale portraits (5×8 ft) or paintings in my apartment only to walk by them, cringe, and exit the room immediately. It’s as though these “sad” pieces haunt the room. I haunt myself.
But to answer your question even further I have to say that I tend to collect images, information, record sensations, and my overall experience of life and my surroundings when I am the most happy; when I am the most awake to life. I’m a sponge. I want to absorb as much information as possible, to capture as much beauty as I can. Later on when I desire some quiet or alone time I pull out my “research” and use it as the basis for creating artwork.
I can’t say that I look forward to creating art all the time. There’s usually an inner struggle taking place. The moment I sit in front of a canvas my confidence in my own abilities is questioned. It’s almost like my inner demons come out to taunt me. Can I produce or reproduce what my eyes have witnessed in my surroundings? Can I successfully capture my surrealistic dreams and thoughts? Can I successfully tell a narrative by using color, form, and symbolism? Ah, the process can be a hot mess at times—quite frustrating. However, the moment I apply the first stroke of paint, the voices tend to quiet down. I begin to defeat them little by little. Once the piece is complete I feel victorious and humbled by the process. To me painting and creating is… life affirming.
DA: There are a few reoccurring themes in your art such as ovals (some fractured), water, the feminine figure. Can you expound on your inclination toward these motifs?
AO: I have a fascination with a woman’s ability to reproduce, to be a vessel. The idea that we as people have the ability to constantly reinvent ourselves, to grow, to change, is fascinating. I specifically use the female figure in my work because I want to chronicle my own experiences, my own growing pains.
There is a painting by Frida Khalo titled, “My Birth,” where she is giving birth to herself. That’s the way I feel. I am constantly pregnant with myself, with my ideas, my goals, my desires, and my zeal for life. I am my own mother, my own sister, my own nurturer, my own source of substance. I am constantly being born and reborn. I experience rebirth as two separate yet unified beings: the mother/vessel and the child.
DA: When I look at your art I feel a sense of loneliness, loss, despair. Sometimes the beholder is just
projecting. How far am I from the actual emotional transmission intended in your collection?
AO: You aren’t far at all. I don’t always identify the mood I want to convey on canvas. I just go with what feels natural. And as you have identified, loneliness, loss, and despair are emotions I am familiar with. As a child I lived with a single parent, who was diagnosed with bipolar depression, along with a laundry list of other mental and physical illnesses. As a child I was very perceptive of my surroundings and I quickly understood that I had to step up and be a parent to my parent… mother my own siblings. It came down to keeping the family afloat and keeping us together. I carried the “world” on my skinny, little nine-year old shoulders.
Loneliness, loss, and despair…haunt me. I can’t always keep them at bay and perhaps I shouldn’t try to control the process too much. There comes a point when the piece has a mind of its own. So, I’m just going to let it be. Que sera, sera. Lo dejo en paz.
DA: Amazing. Thank you for ‘going there’ with your honesty. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
AO: What could I possibly say after all that? Just kidding. Beauty can be so freaking overwhelming and glorious. Aprovecha.
Entonces, gracias a la bella dama, Ms. Ortiz.
Y como siempre…
Peace, Love, and Pureza,