An Interview with Artist George Earl Ortman (1926-2015)

August, 2010

JK: You were also making sculptural works.

GO: In 2002 I was experimenting with how I could make three-dimensional, free-standing forms without making plaster or clay models. I was working with Bainbridge museum board. I would soak pieces of board for about 30 seconds and bend them as much as I could. When dry, the sections of board would be ready to use to assemble the forms. With this technique I could achieve a certain tension, a cleanness and precision of a curve that is more difficult to achieve with plaster or clay. I would also make an underlying structure from Bainbridge board to support the forms.

High Rise
High Rise, acrylic and graphite on Bainbridge board, cord,
76 x 46 x 76 cm (30 x 18 x 30 in), 2004

Fortunately, I received a Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Memorial, cast Carrara marble, 51 x 51 x 41 cm (20 x 20 x 16 in), 2003

This allowed me to cast several pieces.

Game of Chance
Game of Chance, cast aluminum, 76 x 81 x 41 cm (30 x 32 x 16 in), 2005

 I visited New Foundry New York where I met Paige Tooker, the owner and director. She showed me around and explained the process of casting.

Oaxaca Game Fields
Oaxaca Game Field, cast Carrara marble,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2005

I was quite taken with the art of bronze, aluminum, steel and Carrara marble casting. I cast 5 pieces there and I am most pleased with the outcome.

Theme Park
Theme Park, cast aluminium,
41 x 36 x 46 cm (16 x 14 x 18 in), 2006

I continued to work with these forms and with this method of constructing with Bainbridge board for several years.

Proposal for the Guggenheim Museum in Bagdad, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
36 x 41 x 36 cm (14 x 16 x 14 in), 2007


Several Rooms with Views
Several Rooms with Views, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
76 x 53 x 71 cm (30 x 21 x 28 in), 2006

JK: And your Pyramid series?

GO: I’m not sure where the idea of the Pyramids came from. Somewhere I must have seen an image that brought back memories of Mexico and the pyramids there—sites like Teotihuacan outside Mexico City, the ruins at Monte Alban, Yagul and Mitla in the Oaxaca Valley.

Pyramid, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2006
Pyramid, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2006

It excited me to think of working with four slanting picture planes in one object. The idea of sometimes using planes perpendicular to a floor plane in connection with slanting planes, or cutting into the surface of a slanting plane and defining the space inside with 1/2 by 1/2 inch wood strips—these were also most intriguing.

Pyramid, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2008
Pyramid (second face) acrylic on Bainbridge board,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2008

I built a pyramid, and one idea led to another and then to another. They were made so that they could later be cast. I made 11 pyramids and I like them, but found it time to go on.

Pyramid, acrylic on Bainbridge board,
46 x 46 x 46 cm (18 x 18 x 18 in), 2009

JK: You continue to make constructions.

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve, acrylic and graphite on wood and canvas mounted on wood,
89 x 117 cm (35 x 46 in), 2009

GO: Yes. After the series of pyramids, I had the urge to explore language as communicated through sign and symbol in African and Indonesian art.

George Ortman working
George Ortman working on Language in his studio in Castine, Maine
photo credit Lynn Braswell

I was primarily attracted to the art of the Southern Sudan tribes, and both Adam and Eve and Language are informed by their art.

Language, acrylic on canvas mounted on wood, plaster,
Bainbridge board, 61 x 51 cm (24 x 20 in), 2010

I’ve always felt fortunate being born in the mid 20s and in America. I had the opportunity to be in New York and to work with William Stanley Hayter and a group of outstanding young artists at the Atelier 17. I was in Paris at age 22 when Paris was alive with ideas for a new theater. Then back in New York and the co-op galleries of 10th Street, the Artists’ Club, the beginnings of the off-Broadway theater movement, the young poets, the new young musicians and composers around John Cage. The intellectual and cultural center was now in New York. The 50s and early 60s saw Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Pop art, Minimalism, Op art, Neo-Geo and Earthworks. The exhibitions and new museum construction from the 60s up to the present have been phenomenal—MOMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Morgan, the Metropolitan Museum—all in New York. I think I have seen some of the finest exhibitions put on in the 20th century. I have been fortunate to be part of it all. It’s been a good journey.

George Ortman
Artist George Earl Ortman
photo credit Lynn Braswell

Interview images and text copyright © 2010 Julie Karabenick & George Earl Ortman. All Rights Reserved.

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All text and artwork reproduced by permission of the artists.

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