May 17, 2022

MW | whitehot contemporary art magazine

Cruz Ortiz: Los Jardines at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art. Courtesy of the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

By PAUL LASTER March 2022

One of the most knowledgeable and adventurous contemporary artists working today, Cruz Ortiz may be far from the center of the art world in San Antonio, but he continually has his finger on his aesthetic pulse. Interested in art since childhood, he overcame hardships and exclusion to devote himself to it with passion.

Also influenced by his Mexican, European and Native American heritage, Ortiz creates art from what he sees, what he knows and what he learns. Beginning as a sculptor and printmaker in the early 2000s, he learned to paint by studying the work of artists he admires and through years of dedicated perseverance and determined experimentation.

Blurring the line between figuration and abstraction, Ortiz paints playful portraits of family, friends, and activists that are meaningful to his life and causes. Inspired by a wide range of art history, folklore, nature and music, Ortiz paints with a sense of urgency while poetically portraying his subjects from live seances, as well as his photos. point-and-shoot, his sketches and his written memories.

A mixture of direct observation and dreamlike landscapes, his paintings, sculptures and works on paper demand both thought and inventive ideas. Whether paying homage to a public figure or reminiscing about relationships forged over the years, the truth-seeking artist spends hours researching, observing and reflecting on his subjects before bringing those reflections to life through his art. .

Her second solo exhibition at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, “Los Jardines”, covers a variety of approaches in his artistic practice, including several paintings and drawings of his wife and muse Olivia – both stylishly dressed and nude – and several self-portraits that were made during the pandemic, when what was at hand was what he lovingly embraced.

Cruz Ortiz, Olivia Mujer In A Blue Dress, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

large format painting Olivia Mujer in a blue dress (2022) captures his wife in an updated pose by John Singer Sargent. With a cell phone in hand, she was seen stepping out of a cosmic realm. The rippling wave in the background refers to the White Shaman mural, one of the earliest known stories of pictorial creation in North America. Placing her in a location that represents the origin of Native American life, Ortiz portrays Olivia as her strong and elegant soulmate – a viewpoint that could also be seen or read as a reflection of himself.

Cruz Ortiz, Soy Half Muerto, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

The artist’s similarly sized self-portraits in 2022, Demi muerto soybeans (I’m half dead) and Tres soles con you on my mind (Three suns with you on my mind), are the perfect pictorial partners of his wife’s cosmic painting. The first, titled after a melancholy song by English rock band The Smiths, depicts Ortiz as he saw himself in a mirror. He stops time. His character steps out of the shadow of the new moon and into the light. The third eye is the inner eye of the ancestors and the plant becomes a prism to transform light.

Cruz Ortiz, Tres soles con you on my mind, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Tres soles con you on my mind, which was one of the first paintings he made for the exhibition, was elaborated from memories. With no result in mind, the stream-of-consciousness canvas came to life before the artist’s eyes, as if guided by the gods. The stars refer to Native American iconography in west Texas rock art and the letters spell out the words Te Amo, which translates from Spanish to Love You. The background roughly painted in Demi muerto soybeans the references his fondness for the paintings of Susan Rothenberg, while the jagged abstract forms of many of his canvases reflect his admiration for the art of Amy Sillman.

Cruz Ortiz, Auto Retrato Nepantla Triptych, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Ortiz’s largest painting in the show, Auto Retrato Nepantla Triptych (Self Portrait Nepantla Triptych), from 2022, represents three mirror images of the artist, taken at different times during the making of the contemplative work. After years of seeing himself through alter egos, the artist looks in the mirror to portray his Nepantla self – a person living between traditional and contemporary worlds, between Spanish and English, between cultures with different identities. traditional and changing. The abstract shapes around it become mountains in an imaginary West Texas landscape. A nod to Francis Bacon, another artist whom Ortiz admires, the triptych depicts a man in motion, an artist faced with his destiny.

Cruz Ortiz, Karina and Joe at Mixtli, 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Several paintings of friends are represented in a comparable way. Large format canvases Melissa at the Emily Morgan, Bernadette at the Liberty Bar and Karina and Joe at Mixtli (all 2022) depict people close to Ortiz and his wife. Painted with the directness and immediacy of a definitive portrait of Alice Neel, they take the artist’s simple point-and-shoot photos into new multidimensional realms.

Melissa lies down – two glasses in hand – as she looks forward to attending a festive social event at the nearby Alamo, but the curved line of the curtain and the stars on the floor trace the lady’s roots Latinx to native rock art, transporting Melissa to a time and place far further in the past.

Cruz Ortiz, Melissa at the Emily Morgan, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Cruz Ortiz, Bernadette at Liberty Bar, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Quite differently, the background spaces of the other two portraits of friends throw the figures into more angular orbits. Bernadette floats in the cosmic space of her own dreams as she steps closer to the bar to indulge in pleasantries, while Karina and Joe take a break on a club couch as she tends to her phone and ‘he falls deep in thought into a changing, geometrically defined, multicolored piece.

Cruz Ortiz: Los Jardines at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art. Courtesy of the artist and Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, Houston

Large-scale portraits of the artist’s brother posing among giant white flowers from an Instagram image; a mariachi player standing on an abstract stage; union leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez is wrongly sentenced to prison; and a series of smaller scale portraits of nude Olivia (painted at various sites during the pandemic) and framed sketches, letters and notes complement the two-dimensional aspects of the show.

Within the three-dimensional sphere, a handmade chess set, a sculptural painting, and a folding, geometric tabletop object fill the vast gallery space to create an experimental, engaging, enigmatic, and intelligent exhibition – everything the one can expect art, and more. WM