Mauricio Ortiz’s paintings usually depict single objects floating like stars in space; elemental and monolithic. His technical skill with paint is dazzling, with an attention to detail that makes these giant subjects hyper-real, drawing the viewer into an almost trance-like state. Once these images draw you in, other associations come to mind. From a planet in space to a specimen on a microscopic slide, the visual field is open to the imagination. For Ortiz these are objects of devotion, visual mantras to lead the viewer into a deeper state of contemplation. In his recent works, colour plays a major part. Drawing references from Kandinsky’s colour theory, he uses light, warm red to represent strength and energy. In his new painting “Arteries”, red is used as a metaphor for oxygenated blood, a symbol of life. Stemming from a curiosity of natural forms,
Ortiz’s work is an exploration of the structural echoes the artist has observed between contrasting entities such as coral branches and blood vessels; coconuts and volcanoes; molluscs and mammals; solids and liquids. It is through symbolism, then, that the work can be ‘deciphered’ and the secret narrative unveiled. Diverse aspects of the artist’s sensibility can be found in his ‘poetic’ choice of subjects; as the artist states: “whilst one is observing a radiant red shell, one also might be observing an exploding heart”. Objects that appear in Ortiz’s paintings are a symbol for something the artist feels strongly about. The star, for example, comes from an experience he once had whilst encountering what he describes as a ‘constellation’ of hundreds of live sea stars washed up on a black sand beach. Comparing these creatures to stars in the sky, his ‘Star’ paintings, suspended in ‘space’ are a representation of freedom and guidance. The symbol of the butterfly, as seen here in Ortiz’s triumphant screenprint ‘The Present’, is an important one. Egyptians saw a parallel between the linen wrappings of mummies and a butterfly’s chrysalis, a term derived from the Greek world for ‘gold’. In Aztec tradition, butterflies and moths were a symbol of reincarnation, new life and immortality; even in death their mounted beauty can remain intact for centuries. In some monastic traditions the cocoon represents the contemplative who through isolation from the turmoil and distractions of everyday life seeks to transform the soul.
Although Ortiz uses objects as symbols in his work, his belief that the subconscious mind hugely outweighs the conscious mind in humans suggests that the subject matter of what he paints is often unintentional and comes from somewhere in the depths of his unconscious. The ongoing animalia series first came about in 1993 when Ortiz was invited to be art director for an opera titled ‘The Cat and the Swallow’, for which he made an image that combined the two animals. In 1995, an exhibition of the same series of works was commissioned by fashion designer Roland Mouret, which saw the intriguing hybrid creatures fill the walls of London’s ‘Freedom’ bar. Fifteen years on, ‘Scarabeus Cornuplura’ from the series, won a competition backed by Metro newspaper in association with housing and homelessness charity ‘Shelter’, which resulted in Ortiz’s piece being shown at the prestigious Haunch of Venison gallery. Titled ‘House of Cards’, the exhibition saw Ortiz’s work shown alongside works by Damien Hirst, Paul Fryer, The Chapmans and Vivienne Westwood. It was the animalia series of works that formed the basis for many of Mauricio’s paintings that followed, such as the large ‘Hummingfish’ paintings, which were exhibited at the Red Box Gallery in Newcastle in 2003 before selling to an American dealer, and the ‘Sea Cockerel’ works from 2004. Ortiz emerged from Central America in 1990 into a unique residency at the Delfina studios in London.
Collectors of Ortiz’s work include celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who commissioned a piece, and Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who owns various large works including rare examples of the original shell series created for Mogens Tholstrup’s ‘The Collection’.