Hailing from a family of celebrated Pueblo potters, Virgil Ortiz moves into a new era combining art, fashion, video and film at lightning speed. Ortiz, who works and lives in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, is one of the most innovative potters of his time. His exquisite works are exhibited worldwide in museum collections that include: s’Hergotenbosh Museum in The Netherlands, Fondation Cartier in Paris, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Virginia Museum of Fine Art and Denver Art Museum.
Ortiz, the youngest of six children, grew up in a creative environment in which storytelling, collecting clay, gathering wild plants, and producing figurative pottery were part of everyday life; his grandmother Laurencita Herrera and his mother, Seferina Ortiz, were both renowned Pueblo potters and part of an ongoing matrilineal heritage. “I didn’t even know it was art that was being produced while I was growing up,” he remembers. Ortiz keeps Cochiti pottery traditions alive, but transforms them into a contemporary vision that embraces his Pueblo history and culture and merges it with apocalyptic themes, science fiction, and his own storytelling.
Historic events like the 1680 Pueblo Revolt may not immediately spring to mind when you think of science fiction, but blending the two has occupied Ortiz for some time. In May 2015, Denver Art Museum curated Ortiz’s solo exhibit Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz. Set against Ortiz’s graphic murals, the exhibition featured 31 clay figures and invited visitors to immerse themselves in a storyline that Ortiz has been working on for the past 15 years. The storyline transports the viewer back more than three hundred years to the historical events of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and then hurtles forward through time to the year of 2180, introducing a cast of characters along the way. The events of the Pueblo Revolt are little known among most Americans today; however, it remains an important and vital part of Pueblo history.
Pueblo culture is reflected in the design components that reach past a traditional Ortiz sculpture and delves right into the world of high fashion. After a highly successful collaboration with fashion mogul Donna Karan, which Ortiz developed boldly patterned textiles based on his graphic decorative painting, Ortiz has since launched his own fashion and accessory lines. His designs are captivating, provocative, and edgy thus creating the high demand for his sharp laser-cut leather jackets, swinging taffeta skirts, cashmere sweaters and silk scarves echoing the voluminous contours and sinuous motifs of Pueblo pottery showcasing the richness of indigenous high fashion.
Ever since Ortiz first began making pottery as a child and creating fashions for friends and family, he’s consistently worked an elegant, stylized turkey-track X into each of his pieces. The symbol can be regarded as a sort of artist’s seal — but there’s a deeper, more enigmatic, meaning too. “In the Cochiti culture, those birds are noted for moving around so energetically and unpredictably that they’re almost impossible to nab,” he explains. “So the turkey track’s a reminder to myself to constantly keep everyone guessing about my next designs, to keep everything surprising, groundbreaking.” The turkey-track X is a prominent design feature on his Rez Spine™ leather goods and accessory collection.
Although Ortiz has projects in varying mediums – including a newly launched jewelry line for the Smithsonian – Ortiz is first and foremost a potter. Ortiz says, “Clay is the core of all my creations. My work centers on preserving traditional Cochiti culture and art forms.”
“It’s important to recognize that Pueblo communities are very much alive and have a level of vitality that speaks to generations of strength, persistence, brilliance, and thriving energy. I have something very important to do before I go. I want to preserve my culture and inspire our youth to accomplish whatever it is they dream to be.” – Virgil Ortiz