Paulina Ortiz: Art that inspires
Paulina Ortiz is an artist, designer, and president of the Ibero-American Textile Network. She received a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts and is currently working as Professor of Textile Art and Design at the National University of Costa Rica.
Art that inspires is a series for TextileArtist.org, in which established textile practitioners discuss people, art and experiences that have been influential on their own creative journey.
In this edition, Paulina discusses the various practitioners and tutors that have provided her with artistic nourishment and inspiration. We learn of their importance throughout her career and how they have helped shape Paulina as an artist.
A strong influence
Paulina Ortiz: When asked what kind of art or artistic endeavour has meant a turning point in my career, I decided to take a look back.
My father was a lawyer and an intellectual, and my mother, Gisela Stradtmann, is an artist who has earned the country’s highest award, so as a child I grew up in an environment where the nation’s finest artists were frequent visitors to my house.
My mother and my maternal grandmother taught me to draw, embroider, and weave. My mother’s watercolour transparencies and their bright colours definitely had a strong influence on my approach to painting.
In my textile pieces, I use layer over layer of transparent colours on both tree like and paper elements until I finally reach the qualities I’m looking for with greater depth and subtlety.
When I first started, I intuitively looked for opposites: transparencies and opacities, light and shadows, rigidity and softness. And just like her watercolours, my pieces were becoming spiritual and emotional fields reflected through vibrant, expressive colour.
When I was growing up, my dream was to study architecture. Due to life’s circumstances, this was not possible, and along the way, I discovered that I could study textile art and design at the California College of the Arts (CCA). I obviously chose that path, where I found professors who left their mark on everything that would follow from then on.
Ruth Boyer, my textile history professor, gave me a global, structured view of textiles. Her passion for what she did was infectious, and she inspired a desire for us to learn what others were doing. That motivation to learn about others led me to organise the Fourth International Biennial of Textile Art and Design in 2006, followed by the First Encounter of the Ibero-American Textile Network in 2010, both in Costa Rica.
Nance O’Banion, my hand construction professor, was transcendental in her generous teaching. Transparent and open, she allowed many of my classmates and me to visit an artist’s studio, her own, for the first time.
A disciple of Ed Rossbach, her approach to textile was almost always to break the rules, build from scratch, vary from the orthodox, explore materials, and intuitively create, always seeking to capture what you’re feeling or trying to say, to use the surprise effect the textile gives us as we come closer, and to appreciate the rich colouring in her textures. She gave meaning to constructing with our hands, to using basket weaving techniques, and with this, to the fundamental concepts of textile sculpture.
Nance also introduced me to Japanese hand-made paper and to the transparency or opacity effects produced by the different fibres to the way they reflected light, and to their softness. Because of how she taught, always encouraging us to look for new ways and change the techniques once we had learned them, I have always naturally sought to develop my own personal textile techniques, almost without questioning. This has been the way in my tree like elements, when I got into painting with acrylics and batik, and in my paper sculptures.
While studying at the CCA, I was impressed by how no mention was ever made of outstanding Latin American textile artists. It was as if they didn’t exist. Olga de Amaral was the only well-known artist.
At that time there was still no Internet; the only contact I had with her work was through photographs I could find in books, specifically The Art Fabric: Mainstream, by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen, which compiled the best of textile art from the 70s.
What could be perceived in those photos were the textures and colours of their weaves, their emotiveness and their profound respect for everything Latin American. Olga was the only Latin American textile artist to be found in the medium, and this drove me to want to help fill that void. My nostalgia for my country, accompanied by the search for my own language, with her as a reference for all that is ours, led me to try to somehow emulate the natural settings I had visited as a child with my father.
Since then, my metaphors have focused on the imaginary of the pre-Colombian being sensing the smell, textures, and colour of the forest, the signs of our culture, and on viewers getting in touch with themselves through nature.
With the passing of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Amaral’s work better. She has risen above my perceptions and expectations and from a distance continues to be a guiding light, producing and exhibiting, even at her age, all over the world with energy and passion.
The textures of her pieces in the 70s and 80s influenced my choice of tree elements, and the curves drawn in her gold pieces, like the ones she produces now, have led me to other pieces of more restrained composition and structure.
Exploring ideas and materials
Olga’s bi- and tridimensional pieces, the images of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s macro-installations of the 70s, added to the creative, rule-breaking methods prompted by Nance, along with years of civil engineering, architecture, and textile art studies, have all pushed me into space-invading, large-scale paper installations, one of which won me the honor of representing my country for the first time in the 22nd International Biennial in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Another, more distant, influence was the highly textured tapestries of Peter and Ritzi Jacobi, whose thick, tubular elements were somewhat analogous to those of Olga and Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The idea of passing through spatial transformations, practised by the iron curtain artists, Magdalena, Jagoda Buic, and Ursula Plewka Schmidt, changed my view of the scope and dimension of textiles in space. I saw that the wonderful thing about textile, and what makes it unique, is that with weaves and structures we can travel to places without limit, transforming them and changing them into experiences that could never be felt through other artistic media.
In my cultural efforts as president of the Ibero-American Textile Network, I learned from my father the benefits of guilds and knowledge-sharing through international encounters which he himself organised. Through my husband, I learned the importance of holding these congresses and, later, Latin American gatherings, for forging business ties and common interests among our countries.
When I worked for creation of the Ibero-American Textile Network under the World Textile Art Organization, I had the support of its President, Pilar Tobón, and the encouragement and unconditional support of Beatrijs Sterk, who had been Secretary General of the European Textile Network (ETN) from the start, as well as that of Lala de Dios, its President and current Secretary General. They have all generously shared the experiences gleaned from their positions and have had an active hand in creating and keeping the Ibero-American Textile Network alive over the past 10 years.
In my teaching of textile art and design in the School of Art and Visual Communication at Costa Rica’s Universidad Nacional (UNA), I’ve been accompanied by Herbert Bolaños, also a professor at this school and a Costa Rican artist specialising in ancestral Japanese textile techniques and dedicated to the spread of Japanese textile culture.
His attention to detail and mastery of technique, the sensory and emotive way he converts spaces into places, and his adoption of the Japanese philosophy of MA where nature, man, and man’s production are integrated in a continuum, a unitary whole of the same level, humanising nature and naturalising man, all of this has indirectly helped me in recent years with a sense of joyful serenity.
Inge Dusi, a veteran Chilean artist and master of shibori, was his professor when she lived in Costa Rica, and incidentally was also the professor of my colleague Carlos Moya when I first started teaching at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) upon my return from California.
Inge was the one who first pushed for teaching textile art and design at the university level in Costa Rica. To her, we owe the creation of the now-extinct textile department at the UCR, and of the current textile emphasis in the School of Art and Visual Communication at the UNA where I now teach.
There are many others who have influenced my artistic and design endeavours, some closer and others more distant. All of them, though, have permeated my work in some way and I am grateful for having met them each in their different manner.
They have all enriched me generously and I only hope to be able to transmit these teachings as best as possible to my students to create better opportunities for their future growth.
For more information visit: www.paulinaortiz.com
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