Alfredo Ortega shared with great pride that the money his parents used to pay the hospital for his birth came from proceeds of his father’s art. The recent graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso said art has been part of his life ever since.
Ortega, born in Chihuahua City, Mexico, and raised in El Paso, has earned some recognition for his talent through the years. He earned his latest accolade, the Arlene Smith McKinnon Endowment Purse Award for Overall Best of Show, when the winners were announced at the 2020 Annual Juried UTEP Student Art Virtual Exhibition on the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts Facebook page.
The artist won with his vibrant “A Wall Full of Devils,” 20 individual ink-and-watercolor drawings that offer a satiric look at U.S. presidents and their foibles. He said he created the images from his longtime perspective as an undocumented immigrant, but his newfound legal status – and his art – gave him a voice.
His work on 30-inch by 22-inch paper showed imaginative, stream-of-consciousness concepts that touched on politics, pop culture, immigration, consumerism, environmentalism and more.
“I felt the freedom to express what I think about a particular subject,” said Ortega, who earned this spring a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UTEP with concentrations in painting and drawing and an honors minor from the College of Liberal Arts.
He said that an artist friend sent him a phone message with the news as he worked at a U-Haul rental shop in Northeast El Paso on May 28 when the winners were announced.
“I was surprised and happy,” the artist said. “I was not expecting this. I was at work by myself so I couldn’t share the news with anyone. I called my wife and my family to tell them and everyone was excited. I ordered some pizza that night so we could celebrate.”
Marisa Sage, director and head curator at the New Mexico State University Art Museum, was this year’s fine arts judge. She said she chose Ortega’s work because of how he used composition and concept to address the very timely issues of failed bureaucracy, tyranny, oppression, environmentalism, immigration, and the abuse of power by political leaders past and present.
“Using collage, drawing and painting, he uses satire and creative freedom to approach very difficult yet urgent topics, spawning new questions surrounding the possibility of change in our social political climate,” Sage said.
Ortega was among the 91 undergraduates who submitted 356 entries in categories that encompassed graphic design and fine arts such as print, drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, jewelry/small-scale metal and photograph/digital image.
What made this show unique was that many of the students finished their art pieces away from UTEP in makeshift art studios in and around their homes and with whatever materials they could find. Faculty members said that these entries showed the students’ ingenuity.
Ortega said that he finished his project in his home’s kitchen, which was cramped, underlit and full of human and technological distractions that slowed his creative process. He said he will use part of the $1,000 prize to create a small home workshop.
Among the evening’s other winners was Sara Isasi, a senior double major in graphic design and drawing with a minor in communication studies. Her “1960s Psychedelic Posters in El Paso” digital print earned Best Graphic Design.
She said that she and members of her family gathered around to watch the video and started to celebrate with hugs, good wishes and a few tears after her name was announced. Soon other friends, family members and co-workers began to call or send her congratulatory texts.
“I felt really happy and proud of myself,” Isasi said of her ’60s-era submission that was colorful, iconic, and yes, groovy. “Although I could not go out to celebrate this achievement with my family and friends, it still was very beautiful to hear from them and receive their love and support through different platforms.”
The graphic design jurors were Joel Martinez and Iris Morales, co-owners and co-creative directors of El Paso-based EME Design Studios. Martinez said the students did outstanding work, but that he and Morales were especially pleased with Isasi’s winning entry. They lauded its well-balanced composition of color, layout and typography and said it could have been presented to a professional client.
“We based our selection on three essential elements of graphic design: function, concept and aesthetics,” said Martinez, who earned his BFA at UTEP in 2004. “This piece was executed flawlessly judging from these three elements.”
David Griffin, professor and chair of the Department of Art, lauded Rubin Center officials for their decision to go through with the student art show. To have done otherwise would have marginalized the students’ academic and artistic achievements, he said.
Griffin congratulated every art show participant in recorded comments that were part of the virtual awards ceremony. He praised the students for their perseverance and dedication to their craft in the face of COVID-19 restrictions, and encouraged them to stay creative.
“Go out, do the best you can and make art,” Griffin said.
Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications