By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O for the Orange County Arts Commission
Artist Renzo Ortega, a Peruvian immigrant, moved to Carrboro last year after 17 years in New York City. “Art changes a lot based on the place where you live.” His work features themes that matter to him such as immigrant issues, displacement, and gentrification.
Ortega has noticed a mainstream tendency to depict immigrant artists in terms of their country’s traditional art, but not necessarily recognize the contemporary work they produce. He notes, “Of course my forms and colors are going to be a little bit different but we are doing way more for the country than people think. I also have a lot of western influences. I paint with oils and acrylic. I don’t paint with natural pigments and fluids as a medium.” He feels the narrow expectations for his art are an example of institutional racism and “…it makes me uncomfortable.”
The Orange County Arts Commission awarded a grant enabling Ortega to teach in Spanish at the Art Center in Carrboro. “The classes are an opportunity for immigrant workers who are interested in art to have access to an artistic practice, especially learning techniques of drawing and painting.”
Ortega does not just hang his work. “I do painting installations. I work with the architecture of the space.” He paints on fabric and often avoids frames because of their inherent limits. “I try to blend the wall and the painting together like a mural.” He also strives to create the feeling of a political banner. He is currently preparing for a May show in the main gallery of the Arts Center. “I want to show a little more of my ethnicity as a Peruvian…all the elements that culturally represent me.”
Originally, Renzo wanted to be a classical violinist, but as a youth, he took free art classes and then received an art scholarship. This led to an impressive series of academic credentials, including an MFA from Hunter College. However, his early interest persists. “I still want to study music.” His favorite local band is M is We. They are “post punk, very loud” and their music “blows my mind.” Learn more about Renzo at www.renzoortega.com