I don't usually work on just one piece of art at a time. Between 3 to 6 pieces are laying around my studio in some stage of "thinking". The pondering time can last for days or months or occasionally longer until the image occurs to me and begins to flow through. My series of retablos (a type of Hispanic sacred art form) contain images of the Madonna / Goddess / Divine Feminine that "come" to me in a very metaphysical way. I've shown some retablos singly or in small groupings, (like this photo from OHSU) but until this month, I've never exhibited them all together.
Now, over a dozen of my luminous Madonna altars (retablos) are together for the first time at the High Desert Gallery in Central Oregon. The exhibit is at the High Desert Gallery in Redmond, Oregon for the month of October. Then the retablos will travel to the High Desert Gallery in Sisters, Oregon. Coincidentally, the first half of October is also part of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15). Before this month, some of my images of the Divine Feminine have been exhibited in various venues, including Nordstrom Department Stores and Oregon Health Science University OHSU in Portland, Oregon. It's really exciting for me to see all of the retablos together, I hope you can drop by the gallery or contact Todd or Myrna Dow (the gallery owners/directors) for a private showing after hours.
~ High Desert Gallery, Redmond, Oregon -- 541- 548-1811 (direct) 453 SW 6th Street at Evergreen Street. ~ High Desert Gallery, Sisters, Oregon -- 281 West Cascade Avenue at Oak Street Gallery Mailing Address: PO Box 519, Bend, OR 97709-0519 Toll Free Exchange: 866-549-6250
Todd Dow of High Desert Gallery) asked me to write a little about the cultural context of my retablo series. Here is some background of the art form and also my personal motivations that compel me to create the retablos:
Retablos (or altarpiece in Spanish) are a traditional sacred art form with roots that pre-date Christianity, with roots in the Mediterranean areas that include part of what is now Italy. The art form of the retablo first came to North America with the Spanish settlers and artisans that followed the Conquistadors to the North American continent to settle what is now Mexico and the United States.
There are two types of Retablos, the Santos and the Ex-Voto. The Santos style of retablo is either a Saint (from the Roman Catholic Christian tradition) or a member of the Holy Family. Similar in concept to the art form of the Byzantine and/or European Orthodox Catholic icon, the Santos is painted in accordance with strict liturgical rules that define how the central figure of Saint or Holy Family member is represented. The counterpoint to the Santos is the Ex-voto, a no-rules, personal vision that is created to commemorate a blessing received or when a prayer has been answered.
The Ex-voto retablo is the art form I focus on. I love it! This retablo art form gives me a way to connect with the religion of my childhood, without having to get into any personal struggles with a dogma that doesn't always jibe with who I am now.
When I was a child, my abuelita (paternal grandmother), Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta would tell me about the ancestors we shared. They were goldsmiths, soldiers and settlers who had first come to North America in the 1500's, eventually settling in what are now the towns of Santa Fe, Taos and Abiquiu in New Mexico and Ortiz, Colorado. Though she was born in Los Angeles, she held her New Mexican roots close to her heart, importing New Mexican chilis to her home by the beach in Playa del Rey. (I updated her recipe for Red Chili Sauce, if you'd like to try it.)
I paint my retablos to express and explore my gratitude for the blessings of my life. My favorite subject is the Divine Feminine which I interpret as Madonna / Female Creator images. Because my Spanish/Mexican ancestors migrated to North America in the 1500’s, I also include American Indian symbols, as that heritage is sure to be part of my mix.
Along with the visual symbols of my work, the materials I use have personal meaning. My Ortiz ancestors where famous goldsmiths. Thin sheets of 22kt. gold leaf, copper and sterling silver glisten under and over layers of oil paint and evoke the presence of those ancestors. The antique ceramic tile mosaic is glazed with 24kt. Gold and is from a now shuttered ceramic factory in the same area of Southern California where I grew up. The wood panels are built by an artisan wood worker and mostly include re-worked lumber siding from razed timber mill buildings in Bend.
I finish each Retablo with a blessing, usually on the back of the image. In the old tradition of territorial New Mexico, the Retablo often became the spiritual focus in the home when travel was dangerous and people could not attend church. Centuries of isolation in New Mexico led to the unique form of the Ex-Voto often painted on tin, leather or wood panels.
Artists were commissioned to paint retablos that often became symbols of a family’s spiritual life. In that tradition I offer myself to paint commissions of a Retablo for you that commemorates your blessings.