Written by Terra Keck.
In a room somewhere sits the artist Natalie Jauregui-Ortiz. She draws down the shades to spaces inside (her apartment, her mind), and begins to delicately unwrap the edges of her memories. Careful not to crease or take too deep a breath while echoes, hauntings, and dark eyed specters are held static, frozen in time for the scrutiny of hindsight. They are precious as well as painful, like a wound that needs cleaning well after the scabbing should have started.
Jauregui-Ortiz’s paintings depict psychological reimaginings of scenes from her life that center around loss, vulnerability and regret. Things that can’t be held, but are heaviest in the pits of our stomach. Usually incorporating no more than one or two figures, the scenes she’s building are solemnly intimate with clouded light and forlorn gazes that extend just past the viewer. The figures seem only faintly aware of our presence or the presence of one another, lost in thought or bearing witness to something worrying. The scenes are constructed like still lives, with arm chairs and water glasses set “just so.” Compositions and objects are controlled and contained to hold down the red underpainting that glows vibrantly beneath the funereal doll-like stare of the room and its inhabitants.
It would be remiss for a viewer to think Jauregui-Ortiz’s work immediate or easily read. In the case of her 2020 piece, “Vulnerability,” a man sits in a chair, face in his hands, beneath a bare bulb that reads more like a noose than a light source. I do not trust that the seams of this room left pink are not actually irritated sutures. I do not trust that the wall behind him, that I know should be eggshell white, is not actually the blushed and bruised flesh of a body left to sallow. Does the figure cover his face in genuine grief or in shame? I cannot know because a whiskey bottle is never just a whiskey bottle and a lightbulb can be a noose if you paint it just right.
Jauregui-Ortiz will often incorporate her previous paintings into her new paintings, displaying them on the walls of living rooms and hallways. The 2020 piece In A Room Somewhere depicts two figures, the artist herself and another male figure, seated in teal chairs barely aware of the others presence. Behind them is an abstracted version of her 2019 piece When Our Record is Done, a piece that Natalie divulged to me as one of her favorites. The piece is hung between the two figures, acknowledging that these paintings exist and impact the figures lives, but the composition is left foggy, a third hand memory of it’s form and what it meant to paint it. These two pieces are psychically connected to one another. The events illustrated are mirror images in many ways, but decidedly different in tone and treatment of space.
Another pervasive theme in Jauregui-Ortiz’s work is the act of waiting. In the case of both When Our Record is Done and Library_Bookcase, the figures are seated, waiting and watching. However, I would not describe these figures as patient. Rather, unease and anticipation hold up their stiff shoulders, their eyes locked on a moment, an arrival, and exodus, something that is keeping them there. Holding them hostage. The female figure, which represents Natalie herself, never seems relaxed. Pensive and worried, her thin frame slouches over ghoulishly in Denial and crosses itself into knots in In a Room Somewhere. I get the sense that Natalie the figure doesn’t trust these spaces either, nor these men. She rarely enters their space and when they do interact they are interfering with hers, as in the case with Denial IV.
There is nothing easy about this body of work. Their color palettes and compositions give me a great deal of unease, with light like hospital waiting rooms and hazy dreamy edges. The figures sit, waiting in anticipation for their internment in limbo to end, and I hold my breath with them. Though, if I cannot trust the light and I cannot trust the room, should I trust that the haunting figures before me even breathe?
About the writer: Terra Keck is a visual artist, writer, and podcast host based in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a MFA in studio art with a focus in printmaking and performance. She is a current studio member at TI Art Studios in Red Hook. Her website is TerraKeck.com, her Instagram is @herlovelyface, and her podcast Witch, Yes! can be found wherever you find podcasts.
About the artist: Natalie Jauregui-Ortiz is a visual artist and teaching artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She has exhibited at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Southern Exposure, The Greenpoint Gallery, The Sesnon Underground, and at Ground Floor Gallery. She has attended residencies at the New York Academy of Art and at arts letters and numbers. She holds a BA from the University of California – Santa Cruz. Her website is cargocollective.com/njo and her instagram is @natalie.njo.