EDITOR: Every month, EFNIKS features a new artist in the title art of each section of the website. In addition to featuring their work, EFNIKS wants our readers to get to know the queer and trans creatives whose work you see. Below, a chat with this month's artist, Michael Ariel Orta.
EFNIKS: Welcome, Michael! How is your week, how is life, what’s happening on social media? Talk to us.
MICHAEL ARIEL ORTA: My weeks been a little hectic but life is good. My brother’s back for college so ending a stressful work week with much needed family time. There’s been a lot of talk about the mishandling of disaster relief and rape culture (in Hollywood in particular) the past week or so. I’m appalled every time i read about what’s going on in Puerto Rico but it’s nice seeing how many people are pulling together to make up for what the government is failing to do. I think the conversation about rape culture (in general, not just Hollywood) is long overdue but especially in cases like this there are strength in numbers, and most of the celebrities I’m seeing are using their voices to shed light on what has been happening to women especially for years and denouncing it, demanding something be done and the predators be held accountable.
EFNIKS: How do you identify: race, ethnicity, gender, pronouns, sexuality…?
MO: I’m a biracial, Puerto Rican & European, bisexual cisgender male.
EFNIKS: What is your background with respect to art and various artistic media? Any formal training or education?
MO: As long as i can remember I’ve been artistically inclined. It started with me watching the old '90s X-Men cartoons on Saturdays trying my best to replicate what i was watching on TV. I used to try and opt out of as many school projects with some sort of art project all throughout elementary/middle school, although I didn’t really consider it more than a hobby up until high school when I started considering going to college for art. I got my BFA in printmaking from University of Hartford Art School. Getting to a printshop when you’re out of college isn’t the easiest thing so for the time being at least, I work primarily in painting.
EFNIKS: Is there anything about you, your experiences, your values that informs your art and how you present your style?
MO: I feel like most of my art deals with the relationship with my concept of "self" more than anything. I find that creating these metaphors for my experiences helps me work through these emotions and make something beautiful out of something that was quite the opposite when I was going through it. Interpersonal relationships are also a common subject but it usually leads back to myself and how I’m navigating through them. I’ve found myself in a number of toxic relationships and the most substantial healing was done through translating my thought process into illustrations or prints.
EFNIKS: Do you feel any expectations or pigeonholing about how people approach you, given your race/ethnicity, gender presentation, and sexuality? Do people place limits (even if subtle and suggestively) on what you can do?
MO: Growing up in Westchester, even being half white, I was always ostracized for being part of the "other" by the wealthy white kids around me. That was pretty constant throughout middle and high school but after college I had moved back to the Bronx, a primarily Black and Latinx community, and that had pretty much stopped. When I came out at 21, being Latinx and not being hetero was a weird path to navigate because so much of the culture is about machismo, who’s the toughest and most ‘manly’. So being the bisexual artist in a family of jocks, it was a bit of a struggle to feel comfortable being the black sheep. When i started wearing crop tops and tight jeans instead of bootcut and 3XL tees it took some adjusting for some people. I think a lot of it stemmed from them worrying about my safety and having to deal with people around me judging or attacking me in some way. They still worry but they care more about me being comfortable in myself now and I have nothing but their support.
EFNIKS: Tell us about the pieces featured on EFNIKS.com for the FACE Cover Story?
MO: After college, I had spent a lot of time focusing on faces and for months drew nothing but portraits to sharpen that skill. After I felt like i had made good progress on that I wanted to familiarize myself more with the figure and had a friend in fashion design at the time, who showed me these exaggerated figure drawings that were gorgeous. I was inspired and wound up doing a series in 2015 that I revisited and reworked earlier this year.
Frida Kahlo has always been really inspiring to me and I feel like that influence is readable in most of my self portraits. She spent so much time alone, learning about herself, and depicting these findings and these emotions in way that words couldn’t. When you share your art with people you’re essentially letting people into your head, being able to convey an emotion through painting and having someone be able to connect and empathize with your work is an incredible thing, especially when it’s something so personal to you.
EFNIKS: Art is important to EFNIKS, and we want to continue to push art and artivism as regular and recurring parts of our mission--what would you tell up and coming artists about finding spaces where they can flourish and shine?
MO: I would say worry less about fitting into spaces and worry about producing work that feels uniquely and authentically them, I feel like people are drawn to art that feels like it’s coming straight from the artists bloodstream, whatever the subject matter might be just make sure it’s real and it’s you and it will strike and resonate with people.
EFNIKS: Anything you want our folks to know, any words of wisdom you want to drop on the children?
MO: Realistically pursuing a career in art isn’t an easy or predictable path, and in my experience and from what I’ve seen with my peers, often we have to put our passion on hold in order to support ourselves financially. You have to do what you have to do to survive but even in doing that I implore people to not let it go completely. Sometimes I go months without touching a paintbrush but I try to at least have something big to work on in the off chance I have the free time to do so. It hurts seeing the people I was learning with not producing art anymore especially knowing what they’re capable of.
EFNIKS: Where can we find you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, got a SoundCloud? Personal website?
EFNIKS: Thank you for your time, Michael. You’re a dope human.
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