New Mexico artist Virgil Ortiz, from Cochiti Pueblo, recalls, “I learned pottery with my mother; my siblings and I never knew it was our work. Until I was 13, I had no idea it could represent work. I talked to the clay, and it talked to me.”
Born in Santa Fe, Ortiz grew up in Cochiti Pueblo, where he still resides, “I live in Cochiti, because that is where my heart is: my family, the clay – All of it is there. And I am traditional, I take part in the ceremonies, I speak the language, so I stay in Cochiti.”
Ortiz who made his first piece of pottery at six, descends from a long lineage of potters through his mother, Seferina. Artistic talent is also present from his father a drum maker.
But in 2003, his work called the attention of fashion designer Dona Karan, who offered him to create a collection, as “she found inspiration in my decoration on the pottery. It was a very interesting, quick learning experience, to work with her, and see the whole process, from design to show room,” recalls Ortiz.
“I have always been interested by fashion,” he remembers, about his visits in the boutiques of Paris, Los Angeles, and New York, “but I could not afford it, so I made my own.”
After his first show in Paris, in 2001, L’Art populaire, Ortiz is back at the Cartier Fondation as part of an exhibit titled Histoires de voir: Show and Tell. His show Vertigo, involving, this time, his whole family – Dominic Ortiz, Guadalupe, Janice, and Kyle – will be open through October 21 with the rest of the exhibit.
“I wanted to recreate the photo taken by Ben Wittick in 1880, where you see the work of unknown Cochiti potters of that period; as I am trying to revive the style of the 1800, specific to Cochiti Pueblo, to show that this tradition is still alive, in our Pueblo, today.”
The exhibition, based on social commentaries, presents caricatures of a traveling circus: twins, animals with chains, “like a freak show going through Cochiti Pueblo. Those sculptures are traditional caricatures of white people traveling: social commentaries were very common, then. And still go on.”
In the exhibition, Virgil presents a number of sculptures made by his siblings, with whom he admits having very close relationships. “We collect the material together, and sometimes work together: so it becomes a family creation. My studio is the main one, so everybody comes there, to finalize their pottery. I know it is hard to believe, but that is how close we are related.”
From his mother, he confides having learned his introduction to the art business, “I used to follow her in the galleries, that is how I learned to sell pieces, or talk to directors.”
Developing the creation of clothing, jewelry, drawing, painting and videos, Virgil has expanded his field of productions, but acknowledge that pottery remains his main focus.
With a gallery in Scottsdale, the King Gallery, and numerous shows, he is constantly searching for new avenues; but his priority, today, is the transmission of his knowledge to children, through the Ortiz foundation.
“I want to help the children behind me, and show examples of what they can do; so I started a foundation, where I teach them traditional pottery.”
His second trip to Paris reawakens his enthusiasm, “I love Paris: the museums, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower… The architecture is awesome.”
Virgil is presently elaborating his new fashion collection in preparations for the Santa Fe Indian Market, “I used to do only black and white, to reproduce the pottery, as I really like that graphic imagery. But now, I am moving towards more colored lines, mixing colors, but keeping the traditional colors of Cochiti pottery: red, black, and white. It is really pottery, that introduced me into the fashion world.”