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Exuberant Mexico
Polly Stark Ortega

Recent Works - Monday, May 8

April 30, 2023

Polly Stark Ortega celebrates 50 years of life in Mexico by opening the doors of the family residence to unveil recent work, not previously seen.

Polly Stark Ortega draws from elements of Mexico's exuberant natural landscape, folk art, craft and poignant personal memory. A formal training in printmaking, painting and surface design provide for overlapping and unexpected patinas of process and time. The paintings pay homage to the color, boister and bounce of Mexico's palette. Paper pieces plunge into memories of childhood: an expat kid in a 70s San Miguel (very different from today's city vibe), all while playing with layers of surface, fragments of stories, and a young woman's place in an exotic, offtimes surreal surrounding.

Flowers, real or imagined, hark to a childhood surrounded by her mother's crafting of crepe paper flowers for every occasion. There were always stashes of crepe paper in hot pinks, oranges, white and purple and more often than not, her mother, Alice, was often to be found fashioning the larger than life blooms. They were festoons for celebration, despite being so ephemeral.

Meanwhile, up in the rooftop studio, paper patterns and designs were being hand-painted by her father, Bill, for distribution back to NYC ahead of every season's fashion reveal. And then, there were his floral paintings as well.

Polly attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and majored in printmaking and ceramics, but returned to San Miguel before graduating. Her instructor, H. Caroll Cassill in reviewing her portfolio, said to her, " Why are you here when you could be in Mexico? Everything you are creating is pointing you back south." She returned to San Miguel and, incidentally, married. She and her musician husband Victorino Ortega hatched and raised their three children in San Miguel juggling babies while pursuing their creative careers. The house was a revolving door of neighborhood children, music rehearsals, painting, legos, jacket piecework, pets...

There was a point where the children contributed their own brushwork to some of the oils of that period in Polly's work as studio space conjoined with bedroom in their tiny shotgun Loreto rental. At this same time, she and her sister CC Stark launched their own wholesale line of zany tin lighting designs, under the name "Chaos Hecho". Working from the rooftop studio in the family home, they hatched and produced many designs that are now part of SMA's tin legacy.

Polly and Victorino Ortega also designed and painted the interiors of scads of homes through the nineties and early into the new millennium, embellishing them with decorative paintwork. With the bank fallout of 1998(?), and the kids approaching college, they folded the paint business and Polly taught at the Victoria Robbins School. She has only this year stepped back from nearly two decades of teaching sciences, histories and art.

An avid gardener herself, Polly finds plants have a way of imposing their own personality on situations. In Mexican folklore and craft, the plant kingdom is wildly present and more often than not, magical and whimsical: her love for both Mexican lore and plants informs her work, as evidenced in her paintings. Cats, of which there are three in the family, abound, as do other creatures ; toads, birds, bugs. Each one a player in her contemplative depictions.


This exhibition has close to fifty recently painted works, a toast to fifty ecstatic years in Mexico: oils, gouaches, and upcycled plywood cut out animal menageries all for the most part created within the last three years. Covid provided a refuge that granted Polly studio time that previously, while teaching she could not take full advantage of. The protocol of isolation refocused her attention and, following the return to the classroom in 2021, she stepped back from teaching at the end of last June. "It’s been a bit monkish, with the garden, the cats and my husband as my daily companions," she admits, but at the same time has compelled her to dwell on the small, fleeting, companion details that inspire her.

The show will be open to the public Monday, May 8 at Recreo 45, and open afterward, Wednesday through Sunday, 1-6pm, (knock at the door or call for a viewing 415-153-2281) throughout May and June.


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