José Ortega, the artistic reporter.

The history of art is often too much selective. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to review every artist ever lived. Generally, we use to study the most representative figures, but not everyone has the same treatment. There are many causes, but what is certain is that to be noted does not necessarily mean to be noteworthy. Art is full of renowned things that are not remarkable, and also of notable things that are neglected.


The story of the artist José García Ortega proves this kind of “discrimination”. Born in Arroba de los Montes, in 1921, the painter was one of the main proponents of the Spanish social realism: an art movement that drew attention to the socio-political conditions of the working class. Ortega’s social commitment dates back to 1934, when he was thirteen-year-old and decided to move to Madrid. In the Spanish capital, the young artist started to frequent anti-Francoist circles and, simultaneously, to create his first paintings. His strong political stance caused him a lot of troubles, above all the incarceration and the exile.


Ortega, fortunately, found refuge first in France and then in Italy. He had the opportunity to continue his artistic production and exhibited his works in Philadelphia, Toronto, Turin and Bruxelles. However, his creative impact is known only to a few. Why? There are not specific causes. There are many, there is none.


Fig. 1 José García Ortega, Gli Occhi del Libertador, from the "BOLIVAR" series, 1980.


The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) influenced the work of various artist. The artwork Guernica (1937), created by Pablo Picasso, is, undoubtedly, the most iconic artistic representation of that historic event. In the same way, Ortega devoted himself to the narration of that particular period and, in 1971, made the sixty engravings of the Ortega±Dürer series, in which he recalled the civil war situation. The artistic cycle was shown in Nuremberg and Milan, but his importance was soon forgotten. Why? Who knows? Without questioning the merit of Picasso, also the one of Ortega goes beyond the social-political value. José García Ortega had, in fact, a refined and precious artistic language.


In addition to the above-mentioned Ortega±Dürer series, the Spanish artist should be celebrated for his enchanting xylography. The social commitment is not a limitation and the BOLIVAR series (1980), in which the artist paid homage to the Venezuelan “Libertador” Simón Bolívar, is a clear example of this. Works like Gli Occhi del Libertador (Fig. 1) and Giuramento dell’Aventino (Fig. 2) show the captivating creative approach of Ortega. The compositions are built on two-dimensional subjects that are characterized by a lively chromatic uniformity. The selection of unusual colors and the metaphoric representation of significant details and figures identify him as a capable reporter. The artist, in fact, summarizes every historic moment in a few elements. This method, which is supported by an objective aesthetic value, shows his merit: he was able to use one of the most innovative artistic technique to illustrate contemporary events.



Fig. 2 José García Ortega, Giuramento dell’Aventino, from the "BOLIVAR" series, 1980.

Essentially, Ortega was one of the first to propose a symbolic graphic language both aesthetically admirable and metaphorically meaningful. This kind of approach has been reflected in modern satire and contemporary graphic design. For this reason, it is restrictive to mention only Ortega’s political dedication. His art is a socially and iconographically worthy. So, why is Ortega so ignored? There are no reasons. As we said, it is impossible to review every artist ever lived but it is surely possible to go beyond “standards”. The basics are fundamentals but the art world offers more. We don’t have to contain our knowledge; we don’t have to confuse noted with noteworthy. There are many Ortega out there, there are many unpopular creative minds. Art, for its part, gives us every element to retrace what is happened. Artists, in fact, leave their creations to us as an inheritance; it is our duty to practice interest and to continue to feed our curiosity.