By Rob Faucette
Rey Ortega is a mind traveler. With his vision and power, he travels to a place that only he can journey to, but has the ability to show us what he sees. In Ortega’s drawings, paintings, and illustrations, there is a kind of quietness in the way these creatures and landscapes and themes (from love to ruins to death) are captured and brought back to us. Rey brings us pictures he has taken of The Land which exists as a mental geography: part archeology, part history, we eagerly await the images from his latest exploration.
In preparation for Rey Ortega’s show, set to open at WWA gallery on May 7th, I asked Rey a few questions.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Pretty much from an early age, I always wanted to be an artist. I didn't know what exactly being a visual artist meant, mostly I just wanted to draw. There was brief period when I was like, 6, where I considered being a Firefighter, mostly for the trucks, and an Astronaut, mostly for the Spaceships.
What is your favorite memory?
That's a tough one to pin down to just one. That one time I caught a huge pike while fishing, climbing to the very height of an Aztec pyramid, late nights at the studio back at school, the day I got a Nintendo.
When do you do your best work?
Either early in the morning, which I find is a good way to set the tone for the rest of the day, or late at night, when the rest of the world is sleeping.
In your exploration of The Land, what is your most interesting discovery?
The Land is filled with weird stuff that I haven't entirely explored yet. Right now it has to be all the ruins and statues.
What is the earliest record of The Land and the People or Inhabitants?
There might be a long lost crayon drawing of the The Land, buried somewhere in a box...maybe some doodles on a wall that have been washed off long ago. Basically the first time I drew was the first time The Land was made, although I didn't know it at the time. It's all about being imaginative.
What is the most interesting custom in The Land?
That would have to be the tradition of rock garden maintenance and totem pole carving competitions.
Why is fantasy and myth (or myth making) important to a culture?
I think it was important, especially in the case of ancient civilizations, because mythology was a way to understand the world. Everything from where the sun goes at night, to why we feel love or jealousy. Even now, I still think there are important lessons buried underneath the veil of fantasy stories.
These days mythology and fantasy are important to our culture because they essentially are a part of our culture. The way we tell the stories, and the people involved, might have changed, but even something that we might categorize as "pop" culture is still really important to our collective identity. Super Mario, Avatar, Zombies, we might not see it right now, but it's part of a new culture and heritage.
What have been major influences on you?
First and foremost, the work of Jim Henson. Everything from Sesame Street, to the Muppet Show and then into movies like Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal.
The Dark Crystal
He was probably the first person that I recognized as a creator of a "world", and even though something like Kermit the Frog doesn't seem all that related to the Dark Crystal, still I feel like there is a common thread between all of them. A sensibility that informs Jim Henson's work that extends beyond just puppetry. Something heartfelt, quirky, something fantastic but also grounded in reality too.
Another big influence are the games from Fumito Ueda, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2. They go beyond what we normally understand what a video game is, and yet show a deep appreciation for the gaming tradition too. The way those games convey a feeling of place, of loneliness and huge sense of scale, I try and communicate that in my work too.
Those are the big ones, but I try to throw in almost everything that I see and here in my day to day life in my work. My parent's organic vegetable garden, moss growing on rocks, relationships, a funny conversation I had with friends.
Rey Ortega earned his Bachelor's in Illustration from Sheridan College. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada.