Briefly describe the work you do.
I work with graphite and seek to challenge its capabilities through new applications including object making, printing, and airbrushing. I make my own graphite pencils and also incorporate factory-made graphite pen
cils into my work. My drawings are conceptually about graphite and use titles which reference the material’s history (geographical discovery, industry leaders, etc.) while formally using line work and patterning derived from my cultural background (Mexican Indian textile patterns, Mesoamerican stamps, and Aztec codices).
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in rural North Carolina and did not have access to art classes nor paint, so I always drew with no. 2 pencils. My father moved to North Carolina from Mexico and worked at home as a civil engineer using graphite and various kinds of drawing guides. Drawing materials were always lying around so I became accustomed to them at an early age. In 2008 my father gave me some of his drafting tools (antique electric erasers, stencils, and rulers) since he no longer used hand drawing in his profession. My mother also draws and teaches Spanish and Latin American literature at a local university so my love of art, Latin American culture, and history was nourished by her.
I drew at an early age and continue to draw as an adult because I enjoy the process and I continually respond to it. Drawing is a standard in my daily existence and I feel like I’ve known the materials all my life. I am comfortable but surprised by the way they open up through continual experimentation.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
The artist toiling in the studio has been romanticized for ages. In the book, Art and Fear, the author does an admirable job of evaluating this notion in more practical terms. I have a small home studio but do not only work in single dedicated space. Instead I see the studio as a combined place, space, surface, etc. (indoor, outdoor, real and imagined). For me “studio” is more specific to focus and less about a physical space; it is a state of mind to realize works (mentally and/or physically). So theoretically you could have studio days in your mind just organizing thoughts, breaking down concepts, and seeing ideas through. I work on my drawings on a daily basis, as a fluid part of my life. The work finds me wherever I am and I make sure it gets done wherever that may be.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The role of being the professional writer for grants and all other assortments of various prompts is tedious. Using a limited number of words and characters to clearly explain something much larger than one’s self in as few of words as possible can be agonizing. I did not imagine all the writing I would do as an artist.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The best time to make work for me is anytime that becomes available. Obligations I have include various side jobs that I work which are important to my well-being but are also not brain suckers that could potentially eat into my mind and time after I leave. I work daily on my art but believe that having a healthy balance of body and mind (including participation in things which aren’t specifically art related) is important so that I can have a steady stream of effort and positive progress rather than burning out.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I have always drawn with graphite, but my work has changed in the conceptual mechanics embedded within my mark. As opposed to five years ago, I am becoming more attuned to the language of semiotics, making fuller use of line work which can function in and outside of formalism. These lines and marks allude to histories, culture, and process, and in doing so become less arbitrary, random, and non-descriptive. However, in my process I do still have a niche for less symbolic marks as I work to finish a drawing I will often just do what feels right. Overall, I am trying to become more aware of the power of line as a symbolic signifier without getting too clouded by theory and losing sight of what is real about the material in front of me at that moment.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Various influences on my work include my family, professors, other artists, writers, pop icons, etc. A few include Aby Warburg, Giles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Winnie the Pooh (stress reliever), Remedios Varo, Gabriel García Márquez, Claes Oldenburg, and Charline von Heyl among many.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Baker. I’ve worked at various bakeries throughout the years to support myself and have really enjoyed it. I love making things with my hands and the early hours from 4am-noon were ideal for me. I’ve been doing artist residencies for the past two years so it has been difficult to find an occupation where I could leave for a few months and still have a job when I came back. Right now I rule the side job world.
About Charmaine Ortiz
Charmaine Ortiz is a visual artist based out of Carolina Beach, North Carolina. She received the Combined Honors Fellowship earning her MFA in Painting and an MA in Art History from Savannah College of Art and Design. She has earned other merit awards including SCAD’s Encore Award as well as fellowships and residency grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally and has also presented her art historical research at Universities across North Carolina and Georgia. Her work was most recently accepted into The Drawing Center (NY) Viewing Program.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.