When it opened in Puerto Rico in 2015, the Mall of San Juan drew patrons to more than 100 stores, including Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and the region’s first Nordstrom. But shoppers also beat a path to the second floor of the shopping shrine, where a striking 13-by-40-foot mural had pride of place. The mural was the work of Nivea Ortiz, a local artist whose visual mosaic reflected the joyful and irrepressible spirit of the city’s citizenry. Since then, the painter and illustrator has continued to create (albeit on a smaller scale) witty and whimsical work that delights the eye. We caught up with Ortiz, transplanted to Fort Worth, Texas, since Hurricane Maria, for the latest on her artistic adventures.
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A Dream To Draw
Even as a child I always loved to draw. So I went to New York and got my Bachelor of Fine Art in illustration from Pratt Institute. After graduation I came home to Puerto Rico and worked at El Nuevo Día newspaper, illustrating literature, fashion, and travel. At the same time, I started illustrating children’s books.
I’m inspired by nature, and the vibrant colors of the Caribbean are a big part of my palette. I’m intuitive and spontaneous in my work and I really enjoy not knowing how it’s going to end. With clients, I listen to what they want and then strive to capture their vision in a unique way. I work pretty fast … clients always want it in a hurry!
A Problem Like Maria
Overcoming Hurricane Maria was a big challenge for Puerto Rico’s creative community and the island as a whole. It was the most frightening experience I’ve ever had, and as an artist, it’s been a real test of survival. When it hit, I was in the middle of illustrating a children’s book, so losing power, Internet, and phone was really distressing. So I started to paint my fears, channeling them into series of watercolor portraits called Marías that I shared on my Instagram feed, @nivea_ortiz. But the situation on island remained so challenging that I had to leave…
Photo: Nivea Ortiz