The Myths of Olympya
Olympya Ortiz lives in a modest section carved out of one of the former middle class homes in the Vedado (which means sequestered or forbidden) section of Havana. Visitors have to climb a vertiginous staircase that turns treacherously before landing in a second-story living space whose whole volume is filled with the persistent barking of her small dog but only after climbing over and ducking under canvases, drawings, stacked, hanging everywhere.
It is a modest platform from which to launch a career that has taken her to major European galleries and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And some of her major work is showing now at Avondale Bricks Gallery in Birmingham.
Ortiz’ work is striking for the lingering influence of Spain that appears not only in the chiaroscuro color-accented palette of Velasquez, the demon and angel iconography of Goya, and even the translucent and exaggeratedly elongated limbs of Del Greco figures. The influence shows in timeless broken statuary and vanishing cities, sometimes riding in ghostships sailing uncharted waters demarked by almost legible script, city streets materializing--or maybe dematerializing--in the unknowable words that existed in the beginning.
And the mixed media of the works, charcoal, pencil, pastel, acrylics, even copper leaf, add to these themes of veils opening and closing with highly atmospheric effects.
But for all the antique colonial patina, the work is distinctly Cuban in its isolation in this mythic landscape, the island amid territorial waters, so close and so far from its nearest neighbor, solo como la piedra, lonely as the stone, and timeless.