The Art and Times of a Santa Fe Artist
by James Servin

     “In this issue, you’ll meet other people who inspire me: Milla Jovovich, the international model-actress who stars in both our Donna Karan New York and DKNY ad campaigns; Amy Sacco, who brings Hollywood glamour to New York via her ultra-chic nightclubs; and an artist I met in Santa Fe: Virgil Ortiz, whose work directly influenced my spring designs. There’s art that soothes, and then there’s the kind that gets a rise. Meet the Santa Fe-based artist whose soulful art provokes strong reactions.” -DK

     The work of Virgil Ortiz speaks a language all its own. There is a code conveyed that reaches beyond words, conversing closer to soul: wild spinach, water, clouds, fertility symbols – all appearing in columns and rows. The striking patterns spoke to Donna, who, after discovering Ortiz’s works, was inspired to use them on a dress and a skirt for Spring 2013. These graphically compelling designs, Ortiz says, have belonged to his family for hundreds of years. ” Donna came out to Santa Fe in August for Indian Market, the biggest Native American art show in the world, “33-year-old Ortiz explains. “I showed her some of my pottery, and she said, “nothing happens by chance. I like your work, and I’d like a chance to collaborate with you.” Soon his designs were featured on Donna’s clothes, and his pottery and sculptures were slated to sell in Donna’s New York store. His reaction to seeing his traditional Native American art morphed onto the figures of runway models: “Totally cool. It flipped me out to see it all done in a real feminine style.”


     There is tension in Ortiz’s work, between the traditional and the modern. He comes from a family of highly regarded figurative artists who work in pottery and are based in Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. His mother, Seferina, learned the craft from her mother Laurencita, and handed down the tradition to her children. They specialized in what are known as “storyteller” figures. Surfacing in the 1800’s, these sculptures depicted tableaux that Anglo traders first thought were sacred images but the realized were caricatures of themselves and other non-Indian neighbors.

     Ortiz inherited the impulse to surprise with the odd narrative twist. “When I was six, I created a sculpture of a woman,” he explains. “She had very prominent breasts. When I next painted her wearing a bow tie and hat, my parents said “Uh-oh, this kid’s in trouble.” In the early 1990’s, Ortiz created a series of sexually kinky sculptures that offered a modern-day continuation of the pueblo’s mission: “All the pieces in the 1800’s were social commentary, and it’s exactly what I am doing, but it’s a different point on the time line.” Ortiz’s work caught the eye of Robert Gallegos, a local trader. Ortiz recalls, “He called them “the Madonna sculptures’ because this was around the time of Madonna’s Sex book.”

     So began Ortiz’s ascent as a successful artist, entrepreneur and celebrity on the Santa Fe scene. His Santa Fe store Heat: A Freak Boutique, sells leather clothing of his design. With his long hair, numerous piercings and penchant for wearing Marilyn Manson-ish contacts that distort or blank out the eyes, Ortiz lives the Goth aesthetic. Until that is, when he returns to Cochiti Pueblo, where his family gathers every month or two. When he visits, Ortiz takes care to put everyone at ease. Off come the scary contact lenses. “It’s a really small pueblo, and I don’t dress like that around there,” Ortiz says. “They understand the deal; it’s all artwork.”

EVOLution: Emilio Lobato & Virgil Ortiz