Joe Ortega / Biography
Written by Sarah Huffard
Portrait of the Artist

Self Portrait of the Artist

Photograph, 2003

Joé A. Ortega (b.1963 Cardenas, Matanza, Cuba) is a New York City based artist whose spirited paintings give voice to his passionate and highly personal creative vision. Ortega's artistic influences range from Cuban Muñecones (large paper maché figures or puppets used in traditional Cuban carnevales) to the European masters Goya, Picasso and Klimt. His art uniquely incorporates both the old and the new. In his words, "Making art to me is like speaking a great universal language that we can all understand through our personal interpretation. My art is very personal, colorful and experimental. I enjoy working in many different styles and media: combining the old traditional ways of making art with my new creative experiments. I'm always searching for new visions and expressions."

A childhood spent in Cuba and Miami fed Ortega's imagination and taste for bold colors and richly ornamented surfaces. He was prolific as a young artist winning many awards and scholarships for his paintings and murals. At the age of 28 Ortega had a creative breakthrough while visiting his parents in Miami. He began a series of abstract paintings that use the oval shape as both a decorative motif and as a template for painterly experimentation and innovation. For Ortega the oval is a powerful symbol of life. "We are borne from the oval." Over the course of his career, he has continued to use the oval in his abstractions as well as a compositional structure for his more intimate portraits.

Ortega has made many autobiographical portraits of both himself and those close to him throughout his life. One exceptional series of self-portraits was created while the artist was coping with the profound emotional impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. These paintings, made with gouache, ink and other media, reveal the grief and depression felt by so many. Ortega is driven by these intense emotions. Even the frames he custom designs reveal a deeply personal vision. One of the self-portraits from the 9/11 series is set in a black Spanish frame embedded with nails bent inwards towards the painting. It is an example of how Ortega thoughtfully uses techniques such as carving, staining, painting, gilding and nailing to build frames which heighten the poignancy of the artwork.

Ortega studied at the Center for Expressive Arts, Miami, FL, The School of Visual Art, New York, NY and The Art Students League, New York, NY. For the past three decades Ortega has been living and working in New York City. He has been employed in the fashion and design industries and currently works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here Ortega is steeped in the history and culture which shaped his artistic practice. Throughout his career Ortega has exhibited widely in New York, Miami, Puerto Rico and New Jersey.