Chris Ortega has been hard at work, especially lately. A native of Fayetteville, the artist has called Asheville home since 2008. From 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, Ortega will be at the One Stop Deli and Bar on 55 College St. to open his first local solo show, “Friends and Allies for the Struggle.” The show will be on display until October 6.
Ortega recently took time out from preparing for the show to talk about his work.
Question: What drew you to Asheville? How does its art scene differ from that of Fayetteville and other places you’ve lived?
Answer: The art scene was probably the biggest thing that drew me to Asheville. In addition to being a visual artist I’m also a musician. If you’re an artist and a musician in the Southeast, Asheville is the place you want to be. There’s so many amazingly talented people, a ton of diversity, and locals and tourists that have a deep appreciation for the arts.
The art scene in Fayetteville is the exact opposite. The biggest thing drawing people to the area is Fort Bragg, so the population tends to be a bit transitory. If you only plan on staying in one place for a year or two, there’s not much of a reason to focus on building community. There aren’t many galleries or studios, and almost nowhere to see live music. What art is shown tends to be very safe, status quo type work – little old ladies painting flowers. Not that there’s anything wrong with little old ladies, or flowers, but it really makes you appreciate the diversity we have here and the vibrancy of the art community.
Q: What does your creative process look like?
A: My creative process tends to be different for each piece I do. Sometimes I’ll get an idea first and work through all the steps it takes to flesh it out. Other times I’ll start by experimenting and see what happens. I draw a lot of inspiration from music and nature, so sometimes the best way to get motivated is to grab a guitar or go on a hike. I try to let my creativity take me where it chooses, and then adapt along the way.
Q: How has your art changed over the years?
A: I feel that in some ways, my art has been in a constant state of change. I’ve never bought into the idea that an artist needs to have a defined style and stick to it. As long as I can remember I’ve jumped around and tried different styles. Everytime I’ve gotten to a place where my work was easy to pigeon-hole, I’ve tried to start over and go in a completely different direction. As I’ve matured and my ideals and beliefs have become more fully formed, my art has changed to reflect that, but stylistically speaking I’m always evolving and trying new things.
Q: Several of your pieces feature an appealing balance of beauty and violence. What inspires you to combine those conflicting forces?
A: When you get right down to it, life is a balance between opposites – the creative and the destructive, the beautiful and the ugly. We have a beautiful planet, but we’ve done our best to make it ugly. Human life is precious, yet every day we find new ways to destroy it. A lot of times we look right at these juxtapositions and don’t even realize it. The sleek and graceful lines of a revolver, the glowing beauty of a city that is draining our fossil fuels, the high that brings with it addiction and death – these are the sort of things that can drive you crazy with existential angst if you let them. Art speaks to this by illuminating both the beauty and the ugliness of life.
Q: What can visitors expect at “Friends and Allies for the Struggle”? (And elaborate on that title a bit, too.)
A: I read a quote by Eduoard Manet that really stuck with me – “To exhibit is to find friends and allies for the struggle.” Never has this been more true than today, with our disposable society plagued by war, hatred, income disparity, and other forms of injustice. Artists have always been quick to point out society’s ills, but it’s when an artist opens up his work and his world to the public that the potential for change is realized. Because the artist appeals to one’s sense of beauty, the message is more likely to stick than when it comes from a politician or preacher. The artist’s job is to challenge the status quo by provoking people to think, discuss, and dream. “The struggle” is to take this ugly mess that we’ve all helped to create and make it beautiful again. The goal of any sort of exhibition is to recruit others to this dream.
As for what to expect from my show, it’s essentially a retrospective. For the past few years I’ve been constantly creating, but not really doing a whole lot with what I’ve created. There will be pieces from as long ago as 2006 and as recently as this week. There will be a wide range of styles, from political drawings to abstracted landscapes to dreamy surrealist works. Basically, it’s a look into my world. I hope you enjoy what you see!