Indie Indigenous: Virgil Ortiz and the Changing Face of Native Art

Coilhouse | Magazine + Blog
By Rachel “Io” Waters
October | 2012

Editor’s note: below is the final installment of a three-part series by Rachel “Io” Waters about contemporary native art and culture. The first two blog posts in this series, and the intro post, can be found herehere and here

Image from Virgil Ortiz’ Venutian Soldiers series


There is this notion of Native American art that permeates the collective psyche. Often the mental images evoked are those of pastel landscapes with painted horses galloping along sandstone cliffs or of noble maidens snuggling with wolves, created by artists whose only contact with native culure appears to come from Harlequin covers. It’s the type of art best reserved for the walls of Best Western hotels and 24 karat gold-rimmed collector’s plates. Pleasant. Bland.

Enter Virgil Ortiz, a painter, fashion designer, stylist and ceramicist from Cochiti Pueblo whose work challenges every notion of how native art should look. At once traditional and futuristic, whimsical and post-apocalyptic, Ortiz’s art transcends classification altogether.

From 2010’s Contortionista series which melds 19th Century Pueblo Munos figures with the sensual lines of modern Cirque performers.

With a reach extending far beyond the borders of his home state of New Mexico, Ortiz has created prints for fashion giant Donna Karan and continues to expand his own fashion line into the realms of clothing and accessories.

In August of this year, Ortiz premiered his latest project “Venutian Soldiers” during Indian Market in Santa Fe, NM. Inspired by “America’s First Revolution,” the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Ortiz showcased a series of ceramic work and photography depicting an army of futuristic, indigenous superheroes outfitted with feathered gasmasks and latex loincloths.

Although Ortiz is perhaps the most visible, he is just one among many groundbreaking artists leaving their mark not only on the native art world, but on the art world, period. From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, these painters, illustrators, designers and sculptors are creating works that demand consideration. Political, humorous, erotic and poignant, they erase preconceptions with the sweep of a brush.

Image from Virgil Ortiz’ Venutian Soldiers series



At Indian Market alone, the breadth of the talent and diversity among these artists was staggering and impossible to capture in a single article. Here is an image gallery showcasing a small portion of the new generation of art, artists and models present at Indian Market in Santa Fe, NM.

Image from Virgil Ortiz’ Venutian Soldiers series

Jewelry from Ortiz’ Rain Collection

With this fashion video reminiscent of those by Gareth Pugh, Ortiz introduced “Indigene,” a line of limited-run silk scarves.