We had the good fortune of connecting with Renzo Ortega and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renzo, other than deciding to work for yourself, what else do you think played a pivotal role in your story?
I don’t think the concept “work for yourself” applies to me because I am an artist. And I want to twist the idea of “work for yourself” concerning the artist goal that I have, which is to generate access to the arts. I make cultural objects for people to appreciate; the audience is essential for the artist’s work. Beyond my studio practice, I have a social commitment to creating circumstances where people can connect with my artwork. In the long run, who “work for yourself” is the art itself, but not the artist/author. I grew up in Lima, Perú. A city where surf waves is a popular sport, and why not part of its identity. I am not a surfer, but since I was a little boy, I love surfing and other related sports such as boogie board and body surf; I feel it is part of my culture. I am a big follower of surf riders, and I watch surf competitions as any regular guy watches the football or basketball game. The single most important decision I made was to treat my art practice as surfing. At critical times, I put my mind on surf mode: always paddling and moving, trying to do not to ride the first wave of the series because if something goes wrong, five waves or more will crash on my head; If I got caught in the inside, I would be calm; don’t ride on other people’s waves; know my limitations; learn to wait; respect the locals. And the most crucial part is preparing myself mentally and physically; the swell brings waves for everybody, and I have to be ready to ride my art-wave. If Surf is up, Art is up!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Painting is my mission; I believe in the power of Painting. It is unbelievable how I have been building a body of work that represents my life’s experience in its maximum splendor through the years. The narrative is the pillar of my artwork, and in my paintings, I like to create open spaces that are an invitation to the viewer to be part of my history. A studio practice discipline and the study of techniques from different art historical periods are necessary to make it possible. I am from Perú, and my cultural background is rich and diverse. Apart from carrying all the traditions and intrinsic heritage from my native land, I live in the United States for over twenty years, many of them in New York and currently in North Carolina. I feel lucky and proud that my immigrant experience contributes to this country’s cultural and social development, and my life and work maximizes by interacting with a variety of demographics. A connection with the people is super important to me. I advocate for art’s accessibility; artists must have opportunities to exhibit, and the general public must have access to appreciate, contemplate, enjoy, and respond to the artwork. The United States is like a full-color palette, with plenty of resources, that works not only in how we mix but also in how we interact and work next to each other. It is not easy, but according to Russian painter Kandinsky, the meaning of a painting is not generated by the external shapes or colors but by the dynamics and interactions between its elements in the space. I believe that if we learn how to work together, collaborate; we can make it. But we do not have too much time; selfishness is dangerous as global warming. Now is the time to start.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One day I got a random FB message; it was a musician and record collector from Perú that I didn’t see since the 90s. On his way back to Lima from a business trip somewhere in the States, he was in a hotel in Raleigh only for one day. Coincidentally was the SAVAGE Weekend Noise Fest at NighLight in Chapel Hill. SAVAGE Weekend Noise Fest is a huge event, electronic and experimental musicians travel from all over the country to perform the event’s neverending-continuos 15 minutes set per act schedule. From noise to synth-pop, from performance/catharsis to angelical/soundscape mutations, SAVAGE Weekend Noise Fest is the festival that any music lover should attend, and he was lucky to be in the area for that. I went to Raleigh to pick him up; we went to NighLight. Then we had dinner at Mediterranean Deli and returned to the SAVAGE Weekend Noise Fest to listen to a few more acts. I am sure that it was a unique and unexpected night for him; events and venues like that are not typical in Lima, Perú. NightLight in Chapel Hill is the music venue that I recommend everyone visit; it’s a safe space with a diverse music program, and I hope they will survive the pandemic. The great thing about it is that behind the venue there are many places to eat on Franklin Street, and my favorite one Mediterranean Deli is just right there. Such a great Combo: Amazing live music and great gyros and falafel. Long Life to NightLight.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am an artist, but I don’t think that I am a successful or prosperous professional. In today’s art-world ecosystem and art-jobs field, a successful professional artist has a reasonable income from the artworks they produce or a regular job in an academic or art institution. I have an MFA, and I have been applying to jobs for over five years; I only get rejection letters that I am not sure If I want to keep trying. I exhibit my work in great art spaces, museums, and institutions, but I do not often sell paintings; my artworks are not yet on the market. For this reason, I think that the monetary idea of success should not apply to the artists because our real success is being an artist and still alive. So, I want to dedicate my shoutout to the ARTISTS, who have to work in odd jobs, who have to teach, and give up their studio practice; the artists who, during this pandemic, feel tired and overwhelmed by the social pressure that they must be innovators and entrepreneurs. Special recognition to the artists, no one cares about their artwork, but the institutions use them as the token person to fulfill their corporate agendas. SHOUTOUT to the artists, call them, text them, like and share their social media posts, ask them how they feel; artists are people like you, and there is no guarantee that all the artists will be relevant after their death. Love your local artists, buy them a soup.