Artist's Statement

Michael Luis Ortiz

My view of my own art is drawn from the writings of the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee and the Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson:

By abstraction the rational mind isolates an aspect of nature and examines it in itself.

Mathematical abstraction: When we see five stones, or five sheep, or five men, we abstract the quantity “five,” which in itself exists nowhere, and begin to people an intellectual universe. This is a leap of insight. One can imagine cultures in which there exist no numerical concepts beyond “one” and “many.”

Artistic abstraction: The artist sees with the corporeal eye (or the mind’s eye, which views compositions of elements that came through the corporeal eye) and, selecting some element out of the world of form and color, digests it and creates a new work by hand.

These are distinct. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. But the beauty of truth is not the truth of beauty.

Art is neither illustration, nor expression, nor communication. It is creation of the visible.

Klee describes the artist as a tree: he or she begins with the data of visual perception (the earth), drawing it in through the senses (the roots), selecting, arranging, and transforming it (the trunk) to produce a work of art by hand (the crown of leaves).

Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its root. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection. […] And yet, standing at his appointed place, the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules—he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel. [Paul Klee on Modern Art]

My paintings range along a continuum: mathematical/abstract, visionary, illustrational. I’m influenced by Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henri Rousseau, Samuel Palmer, William Blake, and Edmund Dulac. Some of my pieces are inspired by folk art and the cover art of vintage paperbacks. But all are exercises in abstraction.

Painters and sculptors find in objects which they imitate an always-ready outlet for their urge to make. Still, the true artist does not make in order to imitate; he imitates in order to make. [Gilson, Arts of the Beautiful]

I paint in watercolor and oil, working on a small scale. I like to think that I paint with pigments rather than colors.

In medieval painting methods […] the separate pigments tend to be exhibited with emphasis, almost like jewels in a complicated setting. […] The palette was treated almost like a collection of precious stones, to be grouped in the painting with as much regard for their intrinsic beauty as possible. […] The medieval painter was as aware of the special qualities of his particular colors as a musician of the special qualities of instruments and voices. [Daniel Thompson, The Practice of Tempera Painting]

My tendency to hyperfocus on repetitive details was a factor in my autism diagnosis. This inability to “see the forest for the trees,” which is explained by weak central coherence theory, is an obstacle, but I try to use it as a strength as well. And limited perception is a matter of degree, not of kind: it is part of the human condition.

Receptivity is limited by the limitations of the perceiving eye. The limitation of the eye is its inability to see even a small surface equally sharp at all points. The eye must “graze” over the surface, grasping sharply portion after portion, to convey them to the brain which collects and stores the impressions. The eye travels along the paths cut out for it in the work. [Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook]

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Michael Ortiz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Mathematics
Department of Natural and Behavioral Sciences

Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College

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Mathematical Miscellany

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