Kc Ortiz (1978) is a born and bred Chicago artist, living and working in Copenhagen. Kc has been a friend of ours for years and we have followed his artistic developments closely.
When we got the opportunity to curate his first exhibition in Denmark, we didn’t hesitate – it seemed like an obvious extension of what we normally do, since we interact a lot with artists, museums and galleries in our daily work. So, it’s a first for us also. We sat down for a talk about his work, art, prison, the upcoming show and all the things in between.
How did you find yourself ending up in Denmark of all places?
I fell in love with a Danish woman. We got married here and then moved to Bangkok. We always had the idea that Copenhagen is where we would eventually settle and start a family, so in late 2015 we moved here for good. Personally, I feel blessed and fortunate to be able to live here with my family, I’ve been around the world and really believe this is about as good as it gets.
When you were living in Bangkok you were doing photojournalism. Were you always into photography, or art, since you were young?
I got into art the way many artists today did, through graffiti. I started painting graffiti when I was 12 years old in Chicago. By the time I was 15 I was 24/7 hard core about it and had stopped going to school and left home to just paint. Like I said, I’m from Chicago and spent my youth on the streets. Long story short, by the time I was 21 I was locked up. I did 5 years in prison for drug smuggling and during that time my interest in photojournalism started by reading the old newspapers and magazines we could get in there.
When I got out I linked up with an old friend and one-time graffiti rival, Jordan Nickel (Pose), who is a great artist by the way, and joined him in an artist collective, We Are Supervision, that was also doing commercial work.
I got a camera out of the studio there and just started teaching myself the technical end of photography while at the same time jumping head on into stories. Over time the collective became more of a boutique ad agency we ran for about a decade. We became jacks of all trades over those years and besides photography I was doing graphic design, illustration, screen printing, large scale murals, a bit of everything.
We hated doing commercial stuff but it was paying bills and gave us an opportunity to give our friends and starving artists work. Jordan and I had both kept at our personal work over those years and eventually reached the point where we wanted to focus on it exclusively. I moved to Bangkok with Elisabeth, my wife, at that point to be close to where all my work was happening. My photo work focused on under reported conflicts and issues and many of those are in South East Asia. I had my work published in New York Times, Newsweek, The Guardian, Time Magazine, Le Monde, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, VICE, The Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal.
And what made you start doing paintings and focus on that? It seems like photo journalism was working out quite well?
It was a combination of many things that brought me to painting. I’ve spent the first almost 40 years of my life observing, listening, experiencing and exploring and I think I’d like to add speaking on my thoughts and what I’ve learned so far, during the next 40 years. I believe I’ve probably seen more than most and I pull from a pretty fast paced life of extreme and profound experiences. The language that is most natural to me is visual and painting is a good fit for me. I like that it’s physical and I’ve been painting since I was 12 years old in one form or another, whether it was graffiti as a kid or painting large murals and signs for work. Also, the world is changing very quickly and I want to add my voice to the conversation as opposed to representing someone else’s, such as in photojournalism. I spent a couple years in the studio just working with the material, both literally and conceptually, before finding the place I wanted to be with the paintings.
What Danish artists have you noticed so far? And what is your view on the art scene here in general? Also compared to the states?
I think the art scene here is truly impressive. There is so much talent for such a small place. Good work and ideas are everywhere here and there are a number of places to see and access art. I’m a big fan of the State support for arts as well, a society that values the arts is on the right track in my opinion. It is quite a different priority than USA in that regard. There are a number of Danish artists whose work I really like such as Tal R, HuskMitNavn, Farshad Farzankia, Sophie Dupont, Asger Dybvad Larsen, Martin Paaskesen, Camilla Reyman, Thomas Pålsson, Mads Lindberg and Superflex, to name a few.
You are also showing works at the Beyond The Streets exhibition in LA with Todd James, Eddie Martinez, Richard Colman, Jenny Holzer and many more. It's obviously a big thing. How did you get involved in that?
Well I think it stems from my personal history to be relevant and fit in with the exhibition. My life and art are somewhat known in the street and parts of the contemporary art world in the States, I’m not a total unknown though my new work is. But the overall theme of the show is that it is artists who have found success in their studio practices but started their careers on the streets. My “fine art” studio may be young, especially compared to everyone else in the show, but my overall body of work has been going for almost 30 years now. The curator, Roger Gastman, has always been a big supporter and believer in my work and I am happy to be putting my first big works out there with him and alongside so many great and talented artists.
What topics does your new work revolve around?
The short answer is that my work is exploring man’s inner struggles and outer conflicts as they play out in the vastness of infinity while questioning our place and impact on the nature of existence. However, there are a number of themes running parallel, many of which intrude or distract from our existence, such as rampant commercialism, modern propaganda, and others. I work in a freestyle manner, so my train of thought at the time also is heavily reflected in what’s being produced.
Thank you Kc.
Kc Ortiz ”Thursday, August 13th. 2015.”
Olsson Contemporary Kitchens, Sølvgade 4, Kbh K.
May 4th, 2018, from 5pm-9pm. Free drinks.
Jacob Birch (f. 1983) er grafisk designer og medstifter af Spine Studio. Jacob har bidraget til idoart.dk siden 2018.