October 19, 2009

Article | Virgil Ortiz in the New Mexico Independent

Virgil Ortiz is one of the more prolific of the Native designers working today. He is consistently spotlighted in National and International publications. Below is a recent article about Virgil Ortiz written by David Garcia for the New Mexico Independent. To read the original article, and to access the video clip, click on the following link:


It's even OK to call Virgil Ortiz 'le sauvage primitif'

By David Alire Garcia
5/9/09 8:43 PM

New Mexico artist Virgil Ortiz lives in a provocative multi-media world that extends out to L.A. and New York, Paris and Barcelona, but always zooms back to his native Cochiti Pueblo.

I got a chance to interview Oritz a couple weeks ago. The end result: a 10-minute profile of Oritz broadcast last night on KNME-TV. You can also watch it below.

Yesterday, Ortiz turned 40.

He could have been someplace celebrating his roaring success as a potter and fashion designer (among several other disciplines), but instead he was off in White Sands New Mexico, overseeing a photo shoot for his upcoming 2010 line of fashion.

At one point during the interview, Oritz gave his own description of the new line of clothes he’s set to unveil at New York Fashion Week next February:

I guess you would call it a rocked out vagabond thing. Like a vampire meets Red Hot Chile Peppers.

Whatever you call it, it’s quite the explosion of creativity. Ditto for just about everything else the man sets his mind to. Oritz does his creating — from jewlrey to painting to pottery — in his new 4,000-square-foot studio, adjacent to his home in Cochiti.

Next door, his father. Across the street, many nieces and nephews. Out back, the pits and mud brick ovens he and his family use.


It’s fair to say Ortiz was born into pottery — his mother, Seferina Ortiz, was an extremely well-known master in her own right. Her son began forging his own muddy work when he was just six.

His career to date has had him collaborating with the likes of Donna Karan on fabric designs, and conspiring to avoid the scuffles that have erupted among high-end collectors when his pottery is for sale at Santa Fe’s annual Indian Market.

And you thought you had problems!

It one telling exchange that didn’t make the video, I asked Ortiz if he sees himself as a bridge between different worlds. “I just leave it up to the viewer,” he answered. “I don’t think about it that way.” Ortiz does tell a story about how he had just finished a fashion show in Paris when a local writer actually referred to him as le savauge primitif, or primitive savage. Ortiz said he was both pissed off and encouraged with any notoriety so far from home. Since then, in several interviews he’s said — paraphrasing — he doesn’t care what he’s called, just call him.

Ortiz would later flip the slur into the theme and logo for a subsequent line of clothes.

Ortiz is often credited with reviving Cochiti Pueblo’s somewhat-recent tradition of creating storyteller figures. Called monos (or monkeys) in Spanish, the figures were in heavy demand from traders and travelers in the 1800s, though many of those early customers didn’t know they were really recipients of caustic pueblo jokes told in clay.

Other storyteller monos are more fantastical. Those of Ortiz are both — and more.

I didn’t expect the raw sexuality of the female figure pictured above.

It’s hard not to walk away impressed from Ortiz’s studio.

If you’d like a vivid preview of the movie Oritz is working on (yes, he’s also a screenwriter), be sure to watch the video. The movie is loosley based on the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

The characters of the movie also happen to overlap with those of some of the models he’s using for his 2010 fashion line. In fact, the model pictured in the still shot from the video to the right is one of the characters.

Specifically, the model — Sixtus Dominguez — is being made to look like the legendary Etamu, the “character in real life that carried the tied leather strips from pueblo to pueblo” spreading word of the rebellion to Spanish colonial rule, Ortiz explained.

Special thanks go out to KNME’s Kevin McDonald, Antony Lostetter and Kathy Wimmer. Without them, the video would have been impossible to pull off — and nowhere near as cool or fun.

(note: click on the above link to access the video clip)

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