Exhibition at Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2013
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor – visual artist
Interview conducted by Andrej Rot (AR, interviewer) with Humberto Ortega Villaseñor (HOV, painter). Aired on Radio Slovenja on July 4, 2013
AR: In mid-June an international philosophy symposium was held in the Cankarjev dom of Ljubljana. It was dedicated to the Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard in commemoration of the bicentennial of his birth. The occasion also served to inaugurate an exhibit of the paintings by the Mexican artist Humberto Ortega Villaseñor.
The painter, lawyer and university professor Humberto Ortega Villaseñor was born in the Mexican capital. He finished his law studies, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in London, and a Ph.D. in Mexico. Since 1975 he has mounted numerous individual exhibitions – we have counted over fifty – in Mexico and in other cities around the world. He had his first presentation in Slovenia in 2005 at the Academy of Visual Arts in Ljubljana; in 2007 he had an exhibit in the city of Sežana, and he returned to Ljubljana in 2010 with an exhibition at the Celica, a hotel repurposed out of what used to be a Yugoslavian army prison. This year, at the beginning of summer, in the context of the symposium mentioned earlier and in collaboration with the Apokalipsa cultural and artistic association, the Mexican artist exhibited 32 of his paintings in the technique of oil on amate (bark paper), in honor of the great philosopher.
We spoke with him in Ljubljana about his career, his paintings, his conception of art and his vision of Mexican realty.
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor reminds us that he studied under the Guatemalan thinker Luis Recasens Siches, a student of the Spanish luminary José Ortega y Gasset. Exiled on account of the Civil War, Recasens lived and taught for decades in different Mexican universities. We find it interesting that Humberto Ortega Villaseñor emphasizes words like identity, ancestry, lineage.
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor: It might not be so much about ancestry or lineage in the aristocratic sense; it has more to do with belonging, with identity, with knowing where you come from and who your forebears are. Most Mexican have a nebulous connection with our origins. The first thing the Spanish did was to change Mexicans’ family names.
The indigenous also speak of their lineage. Their identity, their stories are passed down orally. The indigenous know their past. Nevertheless, the undertaking is still daunting for Mexicans. The indigenous lineage has been adulterated; indigenous surnames are rare, but they know who their ancestors were. They have a profound sense of dignity and they bring it to bear. Plus, it’s my belief that original communities are related. There is a sort of interlinked, shared foundation, like underground channels of communication. It’s not easy to perceive, but it exists. The original inhabitants of Australia, Mexico, Canada, of Africa and Asia are interconnected and have managed to modify their own conception of the world, as well as ours. Almost all of these communities have turned to international communities in order to change our perception of them. And it’s been successful. In 2007 the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has the same scope as the Human Rights Charter itself.
The future scenario is multicultural; the trend worldwide is multicultural. States with a unitary vision of law and of national identity must adopt norms that allow for the development of their minorities. When one culture dominates, the situation calls for a different kind of legislation.
AR: Just as the topic of ancestry caught me by surprise, so did the fact that you are not just a professor, but also a researcher. What do you research? Why do you emphasize it?
HOV: There are different categories at the university where I work as a research professor. You can be a titular professor, and your obligation is limited to teaching. But the priority is clear inasmuch as we have a national system of researchers within the Ministry of Public Education that supports research and distributes resources through a system that incentivizes research with monetary compensation.
What is it that I do? What do I research? You could say that I’m situated at the confluence of many disciplines. For years I have been working with the writings of Karl Popper, specifically his perception of epistemological categories. With these categories I have set out to look at the relationships among them, especially in the field of creativity. Popper is one of the late 20th-century philosophers who take a relativistic view of science. He always insisted that art and science have a very similar demonstrative value. This led me to explore the process of creativity, what Henri Poincaré of the Vienna Circle talked about when he looked at the stages by which creativity builds on inspiration. There is a correspondence, as Popper contends, between art and science: they both require a previous moment, an impact in the social world. This led me to study the connections between images and words. I have published several works on the relationship between art and science.
AR: Sometimes we confuse the categories of research and experimentation.
HOV: The epistemic categories undergo a process that starts with the transformation from what Popper calls the third world to the world of subjectivity, where a sort of incubation takes place, just like in the lab. Next comes the illumination stage, where there’s an experiment. What artists seek is perfection; for scientists, it’s proof.
AR: The relationship between science and art is complex. Art admits the irrational, individualism, narcissism, but categories like these are troublesome in philosophy, sociology, etc.
HOV: There’s no contradiction. Kierkegaard has helped me to analyze the value of art and the artist in the pre-Columbian world. In the National Library, Ángel María Garibay and the historian León Portilla were translating some old songs from the Nahuatl. They recovered the importance of ancient art. The artist had to be familiar with his own roots and he had to undergo a transformation process in order to establish a dialogue between reason and the heart. He had to maintain a conversation between his feelings and his mind, and both had to be in balance. Achieving this balance meant attaining an exalted status, where he learned to converse with god. The artist had the ability to draw lies out of matter, out of things. The artist was in communication with the divinity, and in this tremendous nexus he turned words into poems. He had magical powers to turn ordinary sand into sculpture, stone into magnificent architecture.
AR: Your students consider you an outstanding professor, with vast experience and a unique résumé. There’s one who says: “While his learning activities are different from all my other courses, it’s what he does with them that makes them unique. He makes you put your creativity into practice, along with teamwork, which for some students is complicated and they find it absurd.” Another says, “He’s like the love child of Art Attack and the ‘Amigo de Cositas’ club on Channel 5!” Hard to decipher…
HOV: Thank you. Yes, that must be from my undergraduate students; they’re the ones who post the evaluations. I run seminars and I have them work in teams. And I use a variety of tools to make them work. We take conceptual language and translate it into iconographic language and they create posters in class. Or the other way around: they make a mind map or concept webs as a way to generate associations. But it all has a learning objective. I’m not the kind of teacher who monopolizes the microphone. I try to be humble in that regard and learn from them. I accept my own ignorance and relativity, and I can learn from my students. It’s a very gratifying process.
AR: Talking about you as a professor is gratifying, undeniably, but it’s harder to talk about your aesthetics and your artistic production. You are a poet and a painter. How do you explain Tracks of Light, oil on amate paper? There it says:
I come from the house of no one
Taking the path of everyone toward the house on the horizon,
Following the tracks of light
HOV: It’s poetic language, but it’s ultimately an enigma, an ineffable association. But I don’t write poetry. I have a friend in New York and I ask him to name the paintings. The poet approaches, accepts, and I have the trust and the sensitivity to accept his intuition. I am so bold as to be poetic when it comes to putting titles on my paintings.
Popper said that you have to let go of your child if the child is ever to have a real impact, the kind that an exalted work might aspire to. If a great writer—Eliot—detaches himself from his work, that makes way for a level of transcendence that one can hardly imagine.
But it’s the art that ultimately calls the shots. There are works that are ahead of their time, and science later catches up with them. Science now talks of chaos theory and complexity theory, but poets picked that up on their antennae long ago.
AR: Your work centers on the recovery of the heritage of Mexican culture and its relations with the contemporary world, its forms of expression today. In other words, you research and experiment at the same time. This dual approach characterizes your book The Chinese and the Mayan: A Study in Relation and Creation, published by the University of Guadalajara in 2008. It’s a unique, daring work because it weds scientific research and artistic creation. The first chapter deals with Popper, de Saussure, Barthes, but the key figure is Leonardo da Vinci, who was an artist, and inventor, not to mention an art theorist. This book also contains the basis of your own artwork.
HOV: That was a fascinating book for me. Moving between experience and research, in the end what I managed to achieve was a kind of fusion; that’s what I achieve visually. I was a rigorous researcher when it came to the analysis. Once when I was looking at the books, especially the ideograms, I was struck by the graphic similarities between Mayan cartouches and Chinese characters. I wondered: how can there be lexicographical similarity? Then I found that there was even phonetic likeness, and that they had the same meaning in two different cultures.
The ideograms stopped evolving, but I took them from one specific era. How can you explain this synchronicity? It’s still an open question. I reach an ambiguous, suggestive conclusion, and that allowed me to experiment visually, with visual expression.
AR: Now a new book of yours has come out: Toward a Pluricultural Nation. A Study of Socio-legal Obligation to Preserve Deep Mexico’s Cultural Wealth and Diversity for the Future. The title itself announces its intention. This would mean guarantees for the survival and development of the 62 autochthonous communities inhabiting Mexican territory.
HOV: This is a worldwide movement. It’s a profoundly human cause, in differentiated spaces, from Australia to Canada; all of these magnificent cultures that survive have important surprises in store for us. My study limited its scope to Mexico, which has its variations on the theme.
I had to take models, often from the Anglo-Saxon experience, and from other countries.
There is a generalized recognition that these cultures have a great deal to offer. The development of ethnology, and the concerns that Europe had, the preservation of knowledge, I’m looking at the epistemic side.
The future can be promising, as long as there is harmony between cultures. This dialogue is necessary; this encounter with the Other is a challenge at the cultural and civilizational levels. In spite of all the signs of a loss of values as we peer into the future, we can look forward to great abundance in the personal and social spheres.
AR: Mexico has had important waves of immigrants, including important people. Many were escaping the Spanish Civil War. There were also artists like Leonora Carrington, the surrealist painter, or the writer Elena Poniatowska, born in Paris. They also reflected the reality of Mexico in their works.
HOV: There’s also Bruno Traven’s book Canasta of Mexican Stories, where he uses humor to characterize Mexican reality. We have chroniclers from the 19th century. Their observations are quite fantastic. But allow me a subjective impression: When I saw the young women and people in general in this society, in Slovenia, when I met them and got to know them, they seemed so alive, so beautiful, and as a foreigner I thought, how wonderful. It’s gives me hope. You come from another world and you see things that they don’t see themselves.
AR: The bicentennial was an important event that we heard about here. What did all of those celebration leave behind?
HOV: Don’t forget that the bicentennial of our struggle for Independence coincided with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, two very heroic and unique episodes. The critical stance of the indigenous communities was to question both commemorations: what do we have to celebrate? Independence? We live under an ongoing attempt at colonialization from within. It’s like a bullet to the heart. We had a less celebratory commemoration of the Revolution, because at that time we had a far-right government in power, from the PAN party. The National Action Party (PAN) is the political party that held Executive power in Mexico from 2000 to 2012. Under the last administration of that party Mexico suffered high levels of violence. Fortunately, things changed after December 2012. That’s our hope, anyway.
AR: Mexicans, according to many surveys, are happy people. It helps, of course, to have a sense of humor. Do you identify more with the comedian Cantinflas, or with the mischief-making of the Chavo del 8?
HOV: We’re extroverts. The word cantinflismo was even recognized by the Royal Academy of the Language. When you don’t have anywhere to go and you make fun of the next person, it’s like an albur, a double entendre. The albur is a play on words that you hear all over the Spanish-speaking world, although it’s especially prevalent in Mexico. Both have their unique style. The figure of Cantinflas has a critical edge, and multiple facets in the world of cinema. El Chavo is more static; he’s more about teasing.
AR: Can you point to an artist from any part of the world?
HOV: I recognize influences. I find contemporary art disappointing. My inspirations are the grand masters. As a boy I imitated my father; he showed me the way, using watercolors. I always had multiple inspirations. When I went to Bonampak, a Mayan archeological site located in the Lacandon jungle, I was fascinated by those “painted walls,” those colorful paintings that tell us so much about the daily life of the Mayans. Or the art of Tehuacán, the “place of the gods.” They are important models, although I can’t help drawing inspiration as well from European traditions, the Spanish school, muralism, the Mexican painters Rufino Tamayo, José Chávez Morado, José Clemente Orozco. Inspirations are universal, but it’s hard to point to something specific and exclusive, because so many works are fascinating, from Leonardo to so many others. Hopefully I will live long enough to see more.
Some critics on line about HOV’s Works
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor
and the cult of the pre-Hispanic codices
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor has been a visual artist for the last 30 years. Over time his way of capturing reality has matured, acquiring a compelling definition. At the international level he is considered one of the most representative visual artists in Mexico.
His obsession for pre-Hispanic symbology and codices has led him down unusual paths, which has drawn the attention of important galleries in SOHO, New York, Houston, Sweden, and he is currently exhibiting in Berlin’s Tre Gallery.
As for his presence in our own country, he has visited the leading forums. His paintings have attracted the attention of important collectors, who have acquired works of his to include in their personal collections, figures such as Ann Rockefeller, Robert Stang, Murray Bruce, Gail Bruce and Robert Clearly, among others.
Jeancarlo Aldana, in Novedades
Friday, October 13, 2000, p. C16
Exhibition of Contemporary Mexican Painting to be Shown in Berlin
(Press Release , La Crónica, Mexico city, September 6, 2000)
An exhibition of contemporary Mexican painting will be inaugurated next week in Berlin. The main purpose of the exhibition is to acquaint a wider public with the technique of painting on bark paper, and to gain recognition for the for the medium as an art form, not only as a handcraft.
A number of Mexican artists have been invited to take part in the exhibition Antonio Hinojosa, Juanita Pérez Adelman, Vicente Rojo, Sergio López Orozco, Bonjamín Manzo, Raúl Navarro, Naomi Siegman, Susana Sierra, Humberto Ortega Villaseñor and Francisco Toledo. Their work will be on display as of September 21st, 2000 in the No. Tres Gallery, one block from the “Kudamm”, the main avenue on the western side of the German capital and site of an important concentration of art galleries.
The works to be displayed were chosen by the Mana Cultura Internacional agency, based in Mexico City, and the German firm Amate Kultur Agentur, which promotes the bark-paper technique as an art form and not a mere handcraft.
The Mexican artists that will be present in Berlin were not chosen on the basis of thematic similarities or artistic genre. They represent distinct visions, and the works on display were all painted on conventional paper or bark paper.
Press Release HOV, Club Mundet
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor, with a professional career of over thirty years in the visual arts, exhibits 17 of his most recent works at the Club Mundet in Mexico City; (the exhibit will remain open until the end of November 2000). This is a prime opportunity to go and admire the work of a Mexican artist who has not exhibited in this city for over 10 years due to commitments with institutions and galleries abroad.
The small sample of artworks has a novel point of reference for us: the artist’s growing interest in studying and corroborating the golden section and the mathematical values inscribed in important architectural complexes and manifestations of pre-Columbian art. Motivated by this source of inspiration, he has traveled and documented precise discoveries related to the search for himself and the study and application of the number phi in each of his works. This does not mean that he has abandoned creative playfulness and the spontaneous display of forces and shapes; on the contrary, it suggests an evolutionary shift toward universal expression. His work projects a certain effervescence, nonchalance and flavor that invites viewers to integrate their aesthetic experience into a total language.
Antonio López Mijares, the poet and art critic from Jalisco, puts his finger on the consistency and vigor of the visual components: “These thickly-laden sheets, complex in texture, unashamedly corporeal, blissful in their metaphysical innocence, irradiate the sacred from an unmoving center, alive like a sexual organ – the recurrent presence of a kind of light-filled wound in the center of the forms that Humberto Ortega Villaseñor creates is perhaps one of the most provocative aspects of his work, because it is eminently enigmatic: it reminds us that the Edenic or Paradisiacal vision also encompasses Otherness, the tragic experience of origin—through successive gradations of color: from the iridescent lightness of certain aquamarines, for example, to the crimson or cobalt paroxysm in which the shape manifests its contours, as sharp as the horizon between earth and sky.”
In this way, it is a pleasure to discern the presence of hybrid shapes that freely combine references to Mesoamerican sites with images from an even more remote past: linking primitivism and a vision of the future in an eternal present: human bodies, plants, fruits, planets, suns, moons, volcanoes, etc., an enriching intimist dialogue of kingdoms that seem to whisper among themselves to weave a consistent fabric of all that exists in both the macro and the microcosmos.
The works are executed in a mixed technique on amate paper.
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor and Luc Laly
in the Lasécu Gallery, Lille, France, January-February, 2003
“Imbued with pre-Columbian culture, Humberto Ortega Villaseñor uses symbols and vivid colors as essential elements of his aesthetic expression. In his distinctive technique he applies pigments to amate – paper made from tree bark – covering it with dense textures. Luc Laly, inspired by cave paintings, works in monochrome on paper, setting down signs or writing that seem blurred by time.”
La Voix du Nord, January 2003, regional newspaper of Lille, France
Sharing Culture at Lasécu
Festive artists, laughing buyer, fussy viewers, harried organizer, a Mexican speaking English and a very concentrated little girl. We saw a bit of everything this past Friday at Lasécu. Lasécu is an exhibition space in the heart of Fives, a working-class district on the outskirts of Lille. It is also, as its name suggests, the building that in years past housed the Social Security office in that part of the city. And in keeping with the spirit of sharing—not health, but culture – the President of this association, Patrick Poulain, insists on its mission to attract all types of audiences to “feast their eyes” free of charge and on the street corner, in a place that is open to all influences. So it was that the Cat, embodied in a dual figure (Karine and Patricia), made its way to the inauguration of a dual exhibit.
In this breezy, light-filled space, the works of two notable artists are juxtaposed:
One, Luc Laly, from Villeneuve d’Ascq, fascinated by cave paintings, wants to show that Cro-Magnon men were not brutes; on the contrary, they etched onto stone veritable alphabets, precursors of writing. The other, Humberto Ortega Villaseñor, from Mexico, using coconuts, feathers and tree bark, sets out to revive and share cultures and paintings with a distinct indigenous flavor. He also puts certain cognitive assertions on display, such as the fact that pre-Columbian civilizations worked with the theory of proportions long before our Mediterranean ancestors did.
For more information, tune in on Monday afternoon and listen to the two artists on Radio Campus, or go see their works for yourself at 26 rue Bourjembois, through February 25th.
Radio Campus (newspaper report by Karine and Patricia published on the University of Lille’s webpage on February 11, 2003). The interview was aired on Monday, January 13, 2003, from 6:30 to 7:00, Radio Campus 106.6, on the program called “Le Matou Revient.”
Collective exhibit from December 2004 to January 2005
Lasécu sort sa compil pour les fêtes… que de l’inédit (ou presque).
Ce vendredi 3 décembre, vernissage d’une expo anniversaire… les 3 ans de Lasécu. Tous les artistes ayant exposés depuis le 08 décembre 2001 proposent jusqu’au au 29 janvier 2005, une ¦uvre représentative de leur travail récent. L’occasion donc de partager un moment (et de trinquer) avec :
Frédéric Levy Hadida, Fabrice Harlé, Gronoff, Marie Bouchacourt, Delphine Brunet, Tezzer, Frank Wallerand, Jacob Diboum, Thierry Derosier, Humberto Ortega Villasenor, Luc Laly, Vincent Chabaud, Stephane Mériaux, Yves Gervais, Alain Winance, Eric Monbel, Fabien Martinand, Gérard Wargnier, Alexis Lippstreu, Hugues Joly, Didier Hamey, Pierre Rogeaux, Anna Solé, Miguel Arechiga, Sophie Cuypers, Patricia Belbachir, Annette Masquilier Didier Majewski.
Le Loft 2004 survit à l’année Européenne de la culture pendant encore 2 mois. Cerise sur le gâteau pour la “crémaillère” de ce vendredi,… Lasécu se dote d’un grenier ! De nombreux créateurs du Loft seront présents.
Collective Exhibition of Visual Artists at Lasécu
Lille, France, December 3, 2004 to January 29, 2005
Promoting artists and guaranteeing a space devoted to contemporary culture and art is the vocation to which Lasécu is committed. Created in November 2001, the organization is at the vanguard of social changes and creation; it is not by chance that this space is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lille (near the famous old “Social Security” building, right next to the Malladie de Lille-Fives). In the heart of this working-class district in the European province of Lille, Lasécu plays an intense role in the cultural, social and economic life of the locality, taking a fresh, determined look at intercultural and intergenerational transformations.
Lasécu is also a runway, and a meeting place for art professionals and creators from around the world. Open to all forms of the visual arts, it has a clearly defined cultural, social and pedagogical project. Lasécu offers the necessary elements for sensitizing audiences to all artistic expressions, facilitating communication and the exchange of ideas between artists and the viewing public.
The first exhibit opened in December 2001. Three years later, we have seen that its ambition has gained momentum: painting, photography, sculpture, design, art edition and live performances…, the programming has brought together connoisseurs and non-experts, gallery owners, cultural promoters, institutions, artists and neighborhood residents.
The exhibit represents a sampling of the last three years of exhibitions at Lasécu. Three years of fruitful encounters and changes that also serve to celebrate Lille’s designation as the epicenter or host city of Contemporary Art in Europe in 2004.
Lasécu is a non-profit association founded under the auspices of the Law of 1901
A More Real Reality.
To say with painting—excuse me for stating the obvious—what only painting, and nothing but painting, can say. This prodigious tree, the paradigmatic Sainte-Victoire, those pineapples and sapodillas of Cézanne’s….
Luis Cardoza y Aragón
Painting, by using its own inherent procedures, makes the world’s splendor visible “in this, its momentary truth,” as the poet would say.* Such is the purpose of the art of painting: the creation of a reality that is admittedly illusory, and perhaps for that very reason, more authentic than the ever-elusive “real” reality with which our senses insist on confusing us.
It’s a bold undertaking, there’s no doubt about it, in spite of the artist’s discretion, to try to fix appearances on the surface of a canvas, on bark paper: a tree (the dark vibrations of its foliage), for example, or a half-seen face, or animals and plants, symbols and evidence, the array of everyday wonders that surround us and that we barely see… All these objects—or to be more precise, these presences—appear on the canvas with a permanence and an authenticity that are more convincing, so to speak, than those of the beings and things that populate the world’s stage.
The artist’s supreme privilege: to create reality anew.
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor is an artist. He invents the world —recovering the Adam-like moment of childhood?—and he places it in the fabulous and fable-like image (in the illusory eternity) of his pictorial and spiritual order: there where the peaceful mirror of a world that has at last been deciphered returns the multiplicity of creatures, their gift of transforming themselves and being different, the other. Imperatives of a dizzying cosmogony: the armadillo would like to be an opossum, fish are—if observed carefully—the rough, iridescent trunk of a tree; a pineapple is, marvelously, a cougar…
Transvestite world, where animals and plants struggle to ascend from a dense original warp toward a sort of realm of pure meaning. This tension enlivens our artist’s painting with an exemplary intensity, expressed through chromatic tones of surprising vibrancy.
For this same reason we find ourselves before a paradoxical art. On the one hand it comes from a firm desire to enlighten, like all art worthy of the name, but at the same time its capacity to provoke wonder is rooted in the material qualities—density, depth—of the color, and in the very peculiar effects of this color when it comes in contact with the rich texture of bark paper. Are we witnessing a symbolic and ritual imaging of the universe? Yes, but also—and above all—we are in the presence of the delicate nuances of a color that recharges suns and objects in the image and likeness of the artist’s powers of expression and invention.
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor’s pictorial work has an air of primitivism as well as of unusual sophistication. His is an animist art that does not try to hide its sources or its sense of wonder: the fabulous narrative of the codices, Paul Klee, a certain strain of folk painting and the hallucinatory geometry of Pre-Columbian art. All these influences, and others, blend with the artist’s talent to turn out an opus that does not conform to the canons of any school, whose originality resides in one simple fact: the painter dared to obey his own instincts, his own expressive needs.
In this sense, he plays a joyful game of sleight of hand and riddles: suddenly, in some painting, a rabbit appears, but wait—look closely—it turns out to be no more than the artist’s pretext for drawing a line, or better yet, an arabesque whose sinuous simplicity is capable of evoking dense visual (that is to say, spiritual) emotions. And what can be said of the enigmatic presence of the solar eye, primordial element of order in that prolific universe of animal and vegetable forms? In this sense, the stylized figure of the deer stands out as a prototype, and in its antlers, like an incandescent fruit, the presence of presences…
On the other hand, I would like to draw the anonymous reader’s attention to the Byzantine complexion of many of these paintings—the severity of expression and the flatness of the representation establish points of contact with the beautiful art of the icons.
Abstract or figurative painting? In this case, the question loses all meaning. It is both at the same time: painting that represents, painting of appearances (and therefore of masking); so it is figurative. Also painting of archetypes, of expressive sobriety in terms of its essential lines, “constructed” on the foundation of a very simple iconography, where color plays the essential role of catalyst of the artist’s creative energies.
In the final analysis, the born colorist sees form and representation in general as the ineluctable media for achieving one single purpose: putting colors in the air and on the earth, using color to express the splendid, irrefutable and joyful truth of the world, set within the limits of the painting: reds, magentas and purples, greens, blues, yellows, oranges, violets… the brilliance of the forms reveals what words can never capture, the painter’s sole truth, which is painting. And Humberto Ortega Villaseñor’s is a painting that re-forms, made up of simple facts like joy and praise, a painting that—to quote Klee—makes the most real, the most radical reality visible; the reality that calls to us from the canvas and transfigures us, as all authentic works of art do.
* “appearances are beautiful in this, their momentary truth”, Octavio Paz, Hymn among Mines.
Antonio López Mijares, March, 1992
The Future Sign
“There will be time when the conspiracy will have faded away, time when hidden things will have disappeared, when the sun’s shoulders come bringing the future sign, oh father. They will come at shouting distance, and you will see the pheasant that arises over the tree of life. When they lift the sign on high… everything will change at once.”
(from Chilam Balam, by Chumayel)
Brilliantly colored, this is how a beautiful collection of abstract, “de-butterflied” butterflies would look, perched on the branches of a dense forest of perfectly distinct symbols, as if they had been carved in stone. Humberto organizes his paper cosmos as if it were sacred territory, respecting the rules of natural symmetry and mandalic structure. This is the space where his resurrected creatures live, the ancestral Toltec symbols: trees of life, ceremonial headdresses and above all, animals that are something else, concepts disguised as animals.
Otters, gulls, deer, turtles, lizards, owls, eagles, manta rays, axolotls, serpents. Humberto is a being fascinated with his own awakening to life, a child who has recovered the power of speech long silenced, and who tells us a story with uniquely archetypal images, difficult for those of us who only read words. “Fascination with the serpent that doesn’t say those words or any others, but rather insinuates what is beyond all saying, beyond all words, such is the secret of fascination; to insinuate what couldn’t be said, thereby producing a fullness that paralyzes the soul” (María Zambrano). Humberto contributes to the enormous cultural task of waking up to the essential Mexico and transcending the worn-out institutional Mexico.
In these times when those who sleep think they’re awake, Humberto sounds like an alarm clock ringing right in our eardrums. With the music of colors and the architecture of shapes, he builds us a cave, a nest, a pond where a sun and a cricket can live, and if we touch them, they simply jump or burn our finger.
Raúl Aceves, Paréntesis, Regional Weekly, Guadalajara, January, 1988.
…Humberto Ortega knows about wars. Not exactly the kind that uses missiles, gas and cannons. As a painter, he is a harbinger that announces the meaning of those other wars, those that point toward the light and create, in the apparent absurdity of pain, the conditions for peace. However, he doesn’t overdo the preview he gives us of better times to come. The glimpse of peace in Humberto is brief. As light as the wings of one of his butterflies. The sun that’s coming is always held back— in the antlers of a deer, in the beak of a crane, in the teeth of a lynx, in the knot of a serpent, in the shadow of an otter. Silent, slow and careful, that’s the way the incubation of the sun of the new era must be. Protected from prematurity, kept far from those who would profane. Humberto knows well what he’s talking about—or what he’s painting about—when he puts an eagle face to face with a serpent, the sky with the earth, darkness with light. In the struggles of his opposites there is a continuity that is inscribed in the evolutionary spiral, like the thread of blood that goes from the lizard to the bird, from the bird to the spirit and returns to feed the fountainhead. Humberto Ortega speaks to us of hopes and buds, with those crosses that practically flower in Nahuatl, with the cocoons that will give birth in the same direction as a sacred destiny.
The wars of his beasts are fought over light; light is what they seek to preserve, light is what they defend. Because the mystery must be transmitted in difficult times and not a single curve of the ancient snail must be broken. The enigmas watch us patiently, waiting for the right person to approach, so that the treasure—the sense-giving wealth of a cosmology with a direction—can be set into the sky that is coming, among the arrows, under the rain of fire, in the midst of war, however, but definitive at long last. There is no truce in Humberto’s painting. Everything is dense. If the butterflies fly, it’s because the fierce spines of the maguey are looking out for all threatened fragility. In this opus, a plate heaped high with symbols, everything becomes a joyful explosion, an intense waiting or a arduous struggle.
Guadalupe Morfín, Presentation of exhibition, Mexico City, January, 1988.
…it is important for Puebla and for Mexico to know that in the 20th century there are artists with the sensitivity to give form in the present to our historical past, as the Mexican painter Humberto Ortega Villaseñor does in his 13th exhibition. Ortega Villaseñor’s work is characterized by the use of Prehispanic materials to translate symbols and codices into modern signs. He gives form to our past without compromising its value. And just as in ancient times, when the “amatlacuilo” put the seal of his blood and his heart on every “amate” or bark painting, so Ortega Villaseñor, the 20th century man, seals his work with his blood and his heart, recognizing the value of the past. For this reason he is recognized as a modern “amatlacuilo”.
Eduardo Merlo Juárez, El Mundo, Puebla, April, 1988.
…the opus has achieved its own consistency thanks to the discovery of new and vigorous colors. The painter makes hollows, grooves and dents in the treated paper, while the layers of papier mâché with linseed oil discretely accumulate.
Ana M. García, El Heraldo de México, Mexico City, August, 1989
…his pictorial solipsism has led him to explore a good part of the possibilities that oil paint offers, as well as oil pastels on bark paper. For some years now Ortega Villaseñor has been using Mexican symbols to express brief, complete, very hermetic and very profound messages. His painting plays with freedom and takes pleasure in modesty, in a unique symbiosis.
Juan C. Castellanos C., El Nacional, Mexico City, August, 1989.
Who is Humberto Ortega Villaseñor?… An artist who has conquered the frontiers of art. The demarcation of Ortega Villaseñor’s work is based on Prehispanic symbols, “he paints as if he wanted to approach the reality that, as Mircea Elíade would say, is freed from the automatisms inherent to profane evolution.” Humberto Ortega Villaseñor, a painter evolving toward the avant-garde, with his pictorial opus rich in legends, history, myth and traditions.
Ana María Oslo, El Sol de Puebla, Puebla, April, 1988
Off the Beaten Path
The Off the Beaten Path exhibit is an event that brings together the work of experienced artists and self-taught talents from different social and economic contexts who are sponsored by innovative community support programs.
The inauguration of Off the Beaten Path (January 27, 2005) coincides with the Unconventional Art Fair, held year after year in Manhattan, New York. It serves as a forum for new developments, as a platform for the exchange of ideas, and as a space where collectors have the chance to see new work before it comes out on the art market.
Off the Beaten Path is organized by the Ramscale Studio, located in a penthouse in the famous West Village of New York City. The participating organizations and the artist belong to a network of organizations and people who produce avant-garde art aimed at transforming society, through mentorship and community-action programs.
Ramscale promotes the work of artists through events and corporate commissions.
Institutions that support our values:
Art + Community is an organization that brings together industrial art professionals and community-based organizations to collaborate on projects and exhibitions aimed at raising awareness and resources.
The Living Museum of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center is a renowned international artists’ program. The Living Museum has been featured in countless documentaries, including the series recently produced by the filmmaker Jessica Yu for HBO.
Chip Morris Mayan Art supports indigenous communities from the Mayan region in recovering traditional textiles.
Land— League Artists Natural Design— is a new art initiative founded by the League Education and Treatment Center of Brooklyn, New York. Land works with artists who live with progressive illnesses and strive to express their unique vision through art, in order to become cultural contributors.
Family of Artists is an institution that concentrates the work of many programs in the Greater New York area, such as Goodwill Industries, Phoenix House, The Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Hamilton, Madison House, Sara’s Center and other organizations that provide rehabilitation services.
Spindleworks, located in Brunswick, Maine, is a non-profit artists’ cooperative that provides materials, studio space and exhibition space to thirty-two artists. Over the last twenty-five years, Spindleworks has become a model of support for people who, in spite of living with physical disabilities, produce fine art and mature handcrafts. Spindleworks artists have exhibited around the United States and their production can be found in many public and private collections.
Visual artists co-participating in the exhibition:
Antón Haardt and Christofer Moses
Humberto Ortega Villaseñor.