Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Elizabeth Barreto Ortiz



With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

Elizabeth Barreto Ortiz is a visual artist, illustrator, muralist and plastic arts educator.

What got you into visual arts?

My interest and passion for the visual arts emerged when I was an adolescent and I fell in love with Japanese animation. I was a big fan of the character design, story development and the application of paint to create backgrounds, which created an interest to study animation. Eventually, I decided to study my bachelor’s in the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico where I developed and enhanced my interest for artistic creation without keeping in mind the rigorous task of academic investigation.

How did you develop your style?

I started studying art in the university without having a lot of experience. So I really started experimenting a lot when I was 18. I remember having a lot of academic pressure when I compared my results with others who had more experience. After a few years, I noticed that it is a process that doesn’t end, but rather one where you apply certain techniques and processes that you love and help you achieve the desired results. Without a doubt, my style was influenced by Puerto Rican graffiti and urban art. The driving force behind my art are portraits; I love faces and expressions.

How has it evolved through the years?

Throughout the years, my style has refined or at least I think so. It took me thirteen (13) years to produce what I do today. I have passed through many phases. For example, three years ago I went through a phase where I didn’t apply color and got away from painting. I believe every time I’ve had the opportunity to work on a mural, I apply what I’m experimenting with at the moment and it helps me define where I’m going. My most recent work is inspired by traditional American tattoos. I decided to take another turn and took on quick acrylic painting.

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

Without a doubt my inspiration comes from personal experiences as an individual and as a woman mixed with collective experiences. I am also inspired by pop culture, the work of my peers, Caribbean culture and my current experiences living in Ciudad de México.

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

Yes! I want to learn more from digital mediums, especially animation. I want to animate my illustrations and delve into graphic design. The idea is to reach a bigger audience and produce more work in less time. I love drawing and painting, but, sadly, not a lot people understand or value the process and its costs. I want to get into multimedia quick, so I can have some sustainability.

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

Institutionally, I think public and private museums provide little support to up-and-coming artists, especially female artists. I am clear on that. However, I do recognize arrangements and projects dedicated to supporting young artists. In general, there’s a large production of quality work with international potential, which comes from a variety of perspectives and experiences. However, these are never seen around the island. Ever since I’ve lived in Ciudad de México, I’ve seen up-close how culture is consumed and for it to be consumed, there must be an interest, a value that the people and state promote. For example, on Sundays the museums belonging to the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes provide free entrance to the public in general. The public museums are filled with people because they want to participate in cultural experiences, which they have paid for in taxes. These opportunities provide a lot of interest and people want to support, learn and practice the arts more. I think Puerto Rico is very distant from that, at least in the visual arts because the advocacy for the arts and culture should also be a priority by governments because they would exalt idiosyncrasy and would serve as an investment towards the country’s capital. That is something the Puerto Rican political class does not consider profitable despite having an economic model that patronizes its tourism.

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

It is a very diverse scene, it isn’t only focused on the metro area and a lot of times we lose sight of that. I won’t debate the talent seen on every corner, but I do question “why?” and “what?” are the mechanisms we should responsibly create to unite and get stronger as a community. Being such a small island, I think we don’t know each other enough because we enclose ourselves in our own circles. I don’t think it is something the state should ease out. I believe in doing stuff by yourself and the capacities artists and educators in the island have to integrate the arts as a priority in the formation of an active and critical yet sensitive society.

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

Believe in yourself and be honest with yourself. Only you will be capable of achieving what you want. There isn’t an ideal path. It sounds cliche because in the past people would tell me that and I would laugh. It is a process that I’m assimilating now. I’m focusing on finding myself after a various disillusions, disenchantment, rejections, and the pain of accepting and facing reality.

What is your biggest goal right now?

My biggest goal right now would be to conquer anxiety. It is one of the biggest obstacles that limits my creativity. It’s all emotional and I have to get over it. Everything else is extra.

What do you seek to achieve with work?

What I want from my work are expectations that are changing with maturation. Sometimes I think I’m making art for others instead for myself and vice-versa. What I’ve made recently has come about the need of creating for myself. Nevertheless, in the process of self-acceptance and opening myself to others, my art has transformed once again so that it has a bigger meaning when I share it. I suppose my biggest goal is sharing my voice with those who don’t have one in terms of creativity and image.

All of the pictures in this article were provided by Elizabeth Barreto Ortiz