Native American Futurist Virgil Ortiz is a Pueblo artist inspired by two loves: the traditional figurative ceramic style he learned from his mother, and Star Wars. These influences resulted in Revolt 1680/2180, a sculpture series retelling the story of his ancestors’ rebellion against Spanish colonizers in 1680, complete with laser blasters and an ancient astronaut vibe. We spoke to this internationally-renowned artist after his appearance at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this past October as part of the Hear My Voice: Native American Art of the Past and Present exhibition. In this exclusive interview, we talked about his work, his process, and how he avoids appropriation of his work, even as he collaborates with fashion designers like Donna Karan. You still live and work in your birthplace, Cochiti Pueblo. You’ve traveled the world to exhibit your work, but I’m curious how it’s received back home. Sadly, creating pottery using traditional methods & materials is a dying art form; there aren’t many masters still living in my community at Cochiti Pueblo, NM. I believe my mentors, teachers, and community view my clay works as innovative, when in fact, I am reviving the original style, subject matter and social commentary that was used in the 1800’s. I have dedicated my life to revive these significant pieces and art form, and give voice back to the clay that was once destroyed by the non-Natives. Once they understood where my inspiration was coming from, and by examining photographs of historic pieces, I gained their support.

Your work is like nothing I’ve ever seen; but it has familiar elements, too, drawing from pop culture and other influences. Would you call it traditional? What makes your work so original? I am inspired by all types of cultures, non-Native included. I am fortunate to be able to continue and use the same methods and materials that have been used for a very long time. The only thing different are my subjects. Cochiti figurative clay works from the 1800’s were based on social commentary, so that itself provides me with a vast array of subjects to work with, [which] transcend to what is considered Native art today, yet [are] very traditional at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about Revolt 1680/2180, your exhibit at the Denver Art Museum? I love the way you bring an event that happened over 300 years ago into the future. What’s it about? For the past 15 years, I have sought tell the story of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, also referred to as the First American Revolution. The Revolt of 1680 is a historic event that hovers somewhere between the unknown, insignificant, and ignored by most unless they live in certain areas of the Southwest. This historical event is not taught in schools, or included in textbooks; it has been swept under the carpet for far too long. By utilizing the mediums I work with, I’ve been able to create a storyline using my art to make it more interesting and relevant to the next generation. The Revolt storyline takes place in 1680 and [is] simultaneously happening in the year 2180. This allows me to incorporate fantastic versions of the original characters and introduce a sci-fi point of view.