The Fruitmarket Gallery boasts “World class contemporary art at the heart of the city”. No exhibition could justify that claim more than the current display by Damián Ortega. It must be regarded as a major coup for the Fruitmarket to host the new works that constitute
A towering success of which the Fruitmarket and the people of Edinburgh should be enormously proud
Ortega is the first to admit that there is a large element of experimentation in what he has produced. His extensive use of clay is a recent departure from the urban world of metal and machines that characterise earlier works, but is also an extension of his interest in both process and materials. Using one of the most basic natural resources, he has taken from the earth, moulded and fashioned its substance and created multi-faceted descriptions of it.
The Fruitmarket Gallery has given each of Ortega’s pieces room in which to breathe. The works are large but they are housed in generous space that permits them to be viewed from all sides and enables a pleasant meander from one to the other. This facility to move around the works is nowhere more important that in Altocumulus. As you climb the stairs look up to the tiny white clouds of clay that are hanging above you. At the top move from side to side and see them appear as beaded curtains that take on a degree of solidity. A similar piece Atmospheric Pressure, in familiar terracotta, hangs in a room that also pays tribute to the great muralist tradition of his home country in the form of Tripas de Gato, Isobaric Map.
In Eroded Valley five rectangular stacks of bricks are used as the foundation for a study of river erosion. In the same way that water erodes the natural landscape Ortega has used the tools of his craft to carve out the stages by which a forked trench deepens into a valley and so eats into the strata that a new mountain is created. The work is a vivid representation of the march of time. Similarly in Lava Waves, unglazed, fired terracotta clay is used in processes of creation and destruction whose fluidity belie the solidity of their substance.
His Icebergs with their blue and white glazed surface stand out in marked contrast. The textured surfaces have an appearance between aerated pumice and a stack of icing. They relate back to the processes of nature but would not be out of place as abstract pieces in a minimalist sitting room. They were fashioned by using a special tool Ortega made in order to achieve the surface effect. He devised another tool to create Broken Sac. The hollowed-out bag of clay is surrounded irregular-shaped balls of taken from it, almost as if it has given birth to them, although it was inspired by the way in which a crab on the beach will dig out sand to make a home. Ortega’s passion for tools reaches its climax in Abrasive Objects, which reiterates the passing of time. From pre-Colombian to the present age, display cases are filled with everyday objects from the home and workplaces illustrating different technologies. Although each piece is different a unity of progression is achieved from their all being being made, yet again, from clay and painted white.
This exhibition continues the innovative and pioneering tradition of the Fruitmarket Gallery, which gives artists the opportunity to experiment and, in particular, to take advantage of the space and light it affords. Ortega has maximised that opportunity and created a series of stirring works worthy of any international show place. The collaboration is a towering success of which the Fruitmarket and the people of Edinburgh should be enormously proud.