Ortner’s fascination with nature, especially the sea is remarkable. This fascination is put into perspective when he compares the sea to human nature, arguing that while the sea is capable of being brutal, it is also capable of being tender and luminous. Ortner claims that the sea is “a reflection of our own impossible nature. We’re so brutal, so base, so horrific, and yet we have the capacity for such tenderness, such warmth, such empathy, such generosity” (Conrad, 2012). It is this fascination with how much nature and our environment mirrors and reflects our own nature that drives Ortner to paint about the sea and by extension, about the “impossible” human nature. In a way, one can argue that Ortner’s paintings are a display of human nature, capable of both brutality and tenderness. In the context of today’s selfish and perverse society, Ortner’s paintings could not be a more accurate and timely reminders of exactly what humans are capable of: brutality and tenderness at the same time.
The article “Water, Water, Everywhere,” contains an interview of Ortner in which he describes not just the motivation behind his paintings, but also his unique and old fashioned approach to painting. The article begins with a description of Ortner’s early family background, which plays an important role in shaping Ortner’s painting career. As a child, Ortner is brought up in seclusion in Alaska, due to his father’s belief in living outside the society. This early life played a significant role in shaping up Ortner’s adventurous and curious personality. His choice to turn to painting as a safer option is as a result of early experiences such as surfing, motorcycle racing and observations of his mother’s painting. Ortner’s vast experience in a variety of fields as well as growing up in Alaska, puts him in a very unique position to observe both the nature of the sea and human nature, hence the ability to clearly identify parallels between the two (Conrad, 2012).
The painting process according to Ortner’s responses, involves recapping and contemplating one’s entire life and putting it in one moment when painting, with the acquired understanding and wisdom having a significant bearing on the final work. Ortner admits that while certain paintings took a lot of effort, while others simply fell of the end of his brush. However, Ortner avers that the best paintings were those that required the least effort and came naturally. To him, no one wants to see an individual struggle to gain approval, with a great work of art being one that gives an individual a sense of relief. As such, Ortner seems to imply that innate ability plays an important role in painting, although he is quick to point out that his philosophy in life is one of “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration (Conrad, 2012).
Perhaps Ortner’s most significant claim, comes when he describes his initial perceptions of art. He actually admits that he came to the realization that he had no idea what art was in his early painting career. His research and quest to discover what art was, led him to the realization that creativity was a central concept in the artistic process, he actually compares to the engine behind the process, and one that is central to it. Ortner therefore argues that creativity along with hard work, are central to achieving good quality art.
Conrad, A. (2012, June). Water, Water Everywhere: Ran Ortner’s Love Affair with The Sea. The Sun 438.