Artists Cruz Ortiz and Ed Saavedra face off. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Two local artists take on desperate artistic acts, 85 cent acrylic, and the relevance of the tostada box in contemporary art

Painter, printmaker, performance artist, and videographer Cruz Ortiz recently bumped heads with painter and illustrator Ed Saavedra to talk contemporary art and its commodification in current society. Ortiz' new printwork, the "Devils and Coyotes" series, is currently on exhibit at Jai. Saavedra's work is on view at the Big Tex Grain Mill, as part of Art in the 'Hood.

Ed Saavedra: You don't like to think of art as a commodity - but you have to.

Cruz Ortiz: Sometimes, when I have to make the payment on my truck, I do. Which is fine, and you can ride the line.

ES: I don't just ride the line. I wrap it around my neck. I'll pull that line between my legs like a dirty gym towel. As long as I'm getting paid.

CO: I'm a printmaking monkey. I crank out shit. I know it's different from some painters. And I know a lot of printmakers who work on a print like if it was a painting - it's got 50 layers of different colors, 100 runs that it went through. I'm not like that. I do up to four or five colors - if that - usually it's one or two. But I print a lot. So I have stacks of prints in my studio, and I'm like, "Goddamn I need to get rid of these damn things." And other than putting them up on telephone poles and throwing them out the window, you know, I gotta pay the truck payment. But I see San Antonio as a painting town.

ES: I really don't, speaking as somebody who recently performed a pretty desperate act when I walked from Broadway all the way down to the Folklife Festival, with paintings hanging off me like some sort of a cotton candy vendor.

CO: Did you sell any?

ES: Hell no.

CO: Well, what you need is an H-E-B basket.

ES: No, I went on the River Walk, though. I was almost knocking people into the water. But I just kept on moving, kept on moving. If I were to get stopped or harassed or anything about a permit or anything, "I'm trying to get to my car. I don't know where I'm parked." And the only people who said anything (besides this guy who is some sort of service industry guy who just said "¡Pintor!") - it was all 6-year-olds and 8-year-olds who were like, "That's a beautiful painting, mister." But, no, I didn't sell anything. It was pretty fucking pathetic and desperate. Somebody did give me 20 bucks at a bar, though, when I stopped in at this bar and set up my paintings. This guy was saying, "Well, I don't have $300. Do you need money?" He just handed me 20 bucks, and it paid for my drinks, which was nice.

Coyoterina, from Cruz Ortiz' new series, "Devils and Coyotes," currently on exhibit at Jai
CO: Well, see, I didn't realize what you were saying, but that's more like desperate as far as like trying to pay the bills. Is that what you mean? I've done crazy shit. But in the beginning, I wasn't so much worried about paying bills. I just painted my ass off and printed shit. That's what I did. I figured, "Well, let's see if it sells." For me, my prints aren't about making money as much.

ES: In other words, I'm a big ol' ho?

CO: No, you have to survive, which is a good topic: artists and surviving. You always just hear about the idea of painting from a lot of artists. You know, "I'm approaching this painting with this really open aesthetic for form or shape and design or how it impacts society" - or some crap like that. Really, in the back of their heads, when they have that show at that commercial gallery, it's like, "Goddamn, I hope I sell something! I hope this freaking shit will con someone into buying it so I can pay rent." And, you know, you never really hear that stuff, but that's where the commodification of art and culture come into play.

ES: Well, I always emphasize payment plans.

CO: And that's the business side of art. Sometimes people don't like to talk about that stuff at all. They really talk about what's in their brain, or what they were smoking when they painted it. But when you're talking to a collector who's gonna give you 10,000 bucks ... It's part of the art world. Tell me about your new work.

ES: I have some new stuff at Art in the 'Hood. My art is mainly about materials now. I'm sort of running out of the box tops and the few stretch canvases that I had. I don't know, my newer pieces are just pretty much using box tops and using the back of this wooden Vietnam parody poster. And some collage work because I recently picked up a bunch of pamphlets on abstinence and date rape and amphetamines and alcohol. I am sort of thinking more commercially, but I can't crank shit out like that. I just keep on going back and refining and refining. But I'm running out of paint, so I'm hoping to sell some work this weekend.

CO: For me, when I do prints, I don't think about one how it looks by itself, I think how they look together.

ES: Like a series.

Ed Saavedra's Isle of Pipe, acrylic on "Chicano Visions" press kit box top, 2003
CO: Well, not like a series, because that's more like a piece and then a different piece. I'm talking about the same damn piece. Like my new work is pictures of coyote girls and devil girls, and old trucks and beer cans. That's the new work at Jai. It's the repetition of one image, then mix-matching into the other images. Like wallpapering. That's the way I think about my prints. It's hard for me to think of them individually.

I love to paint, but it's painting. People have been doing it for fucking centuries. Old ass farts have been painting for freaking years. I see painting as illustration if it's on canvas. And I know you have an illustration background, which is badass. The versatility that you carry with you is really relevant in painting. Like the paint you use, Creamcoat?

ES: Ceramcoat, and Apple Barrel paint, and Plaid, sold for 85 cents ...

"Flea market shows are the next thing. Really, the commercial galleries, I just really don't like them, what they represent. I'm taking it to the flea market."
— Cruz Ortiz
CO: Yeah, see, that's real art, I think. It's definitely better than using oil Grumbacher paints that, I mean, like I said, old farts have been painting that shit for years.

ES: And old farts have been using Ceramcoat since 1985, painting their pottery and their ceramics. And I'm next to them in line at Michael's.

CO: I think that has more of a realness for today. I'm sure there are artists out there who do use that old fart paint. That's great, and they're probably cranking out some awesome work, but it seems to me that for you, the material part is really relevant, and that's cool.

ES: I have painted on the back of a tostada box, but nobody knows that, though. They don't see that. And like at the Art in the 'Hood preview party, they didn't know that that painting was the box top of a "Chicano Visions" press kit, paid for by the Target corporation.

CO: And I think that adds a really nice conceptual level to your work that I appreciate. It's just makes more sense than if you bought a canvas from Herwick's that was duck-primed or whatever the hell they have over there, and then it's pre-primered and sanded, and you know what, let's primer it one more time, and then let's sketch.

ES: Is there a reason you've been consistently AWOL at group shows we've participated in? Your work was there, but you weren't there.

CO: I have a really busy life. And I hardly even go to First Friday stuff, because I have three monkeys at home.

ES: We're supposed to have a show together soon, though.

CO: Really, where?

ES: I don't know, you were talking about a flea market ...

CO: Oh yeah, well that's something I want to do. Definitely. Flea market shows are the next thing. Really, the commercial galleries, I just really don't like them, what they represent. The art world in general just really pisses me off. I'm just not an art world person. I'm taking it to the flea market. I like to drink Lone Star beer and barbeque.

ES: I like to barbeque with Pace picante sauce. •


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