Dead and Alive: Lizbeth Ortiz's Calaveras & Corazones Exhibit at East End

The half-dead, half-alive painted subjects of Lizbeth Ortiz's solo exhibit, Calaveras & Corazones, are a celebration of life -- and the women in it.

To accomplish this theme, Ortiz transformed the entire East End Studio Gallery into a land of sugar skulls, memoirs to Frida Kahlo, personal effects and an altar celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday that occurs right after Halloween. Divided down the middle, one side of the gallery was reserved for the "Calaveras" pieces, and the other for the "Corazones" paintings.

On the "Calaveras" side hung the aforementioned sugar skull paintings. "Looking Up," a metallic watercolor on canvas piece, depicted an optimistic young woman with a skeleton's face cast heavenward. Further down, burlesque goddess Dita Von Teese and actress Penélope Cruz lent their skull-enhanced likenesses to "Blue Calavera" and "Penelope." Despite the morbidity that people in the United States associate with skulls, in Mexico, explained Ortiz, a skull has a "may you live forever" meaning.

"They were so playful," Ortiz said of her reason to incorporate the celebrities into her sugar-skulled, pinup pieces.

Various series of zombie pinups, ten-minute sketches and sexed-up pictures of friends and family members dotted the rest of the wall, with Ortiz's "Frida" series, a collection of Frida Kahlo paintings at different stages of life, being the eye-catcher of them all. There was blinking Frida, smooching Frida, angry Frida, male Frida and, of course, classic Frida, her hair tied up in a flowered bun.

The "Corazones" on the right side of the gallery paid homage to Ortiz's personal side, which is apropos, seeing as how tonight's opening is a ten-year celebration of her first solo exhibit, put on in 2001. Back then, her show was a tribute to those lost on September 11. To honor that in tandem with the Day of the Dead, there was a public altar in the back of East End, created by Ortiz and two other artists, David Pilgrim and Elvira-Diaz Ocampo. Behind the altar was a "papel picado," a string of papers hung clothesline-style that displayed the names of all those who perished on 9/11.

Beside the altar were the fine art digital prints called giclée on canvas paintings. "Mother Nature" is a metaphorical rendition of a woman, her pregnant belly swollen and nearly ready to give birth to Earth. All around her swim the seas and the land in a hypnotic mix of deep greens and blues. "La Sirena," a scaled-down version of an 8-foot-by-4-foot painting of a mermaid skeleton, is based on a Mexican bingo game, said Ortiz.

"No matter what color, what background, we're all skeletons with hearts," said Ortiz. "We're all going to die."

"We are all mortal," said the artist, "and we should all enjoy life to the fullest."

The giclée piece that caught our attention most was "Reina de Corazones," a life-sized version of the painting we fell in love with weeks ago at HCC's Hispanic Heritage Art Show. Inspired by Van Gogh, "Reina de Corazones" is a powerful painting of an Aztec princess reclining on her throne. Once again the half-skeleton effect is at work on both her face and body.

The HSPVA graduate, who regularly calls on cultural heroines to be the subjects of her paintings, hopes to grow as an artist, even though she is a lifelong veteran of the craft.

"I want to take more classes and I really want to concentrate more on different [types of] artwork," she said.

The Calaveras & Corazones exhibit continues through October 23 at the East End Studio Gallery, 708-C Telephone Road. For more information, call 832-298-0964.

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