Saturday, October 12, 2013

Berto Ortega Studio

On August 2nd,  I visited the studio of Berto Ortega at Faith Arts Village Orlando (FAVO) at (221 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando, Florida).  We had a long talk about blogging and marketing artwork by using social media. Berto is the one artist who uses the studio in the former motel full time. Most other artists just come to the market once a month to sell their work and then leave that same night. This was also the one room where the air conditioner worked making it a studio that you would want to linger in since the other studios didn't have air conditioning. He invited me to sketch from inside his studio but I decided to sketch from the balcony outside.

Berto asked friends what was the most beautiful place that they had ever painted. There was some agreement that the Grand Tetons out in Wyoming were gorgeous.  After finishing several painting commissions, he put notes on the paintings, left wet paint on the palette, packed supplies in his pickup truck and headed west to the Grand Tetons.  He did several paintings of the majestic mountain range when he got there. I once bicycled through the Grand Tetons. On that trip I decided to throw away the sketchbook I had at the time feeling ill suited as a student fresh out of art school to capture such beauty.

A September 10th a Jackson Hole newspaper reported, "Grand Teton National Park rangers discovered the body of a 55 year-old Winter Park, Florida man Monday morning.  Alberto Ortega’s body was discovered at Windy Point turnout on the Teton Park Road; apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot to his head. Rangers are conducting an investigation into what appears to be a suicide and an isolated event.  Park Spokesperson Jackie Skaggs says rangers responded at 6:15 am Monday September 9th to a 911 call from passersby when they came upon the unconscious man lying on the ground next to his Toyota pickup truck. Upon arrival, rangers found Ortega already deceased from a head wound and a semi-automatic pistol next to his body. A note left by Ortega was also located at the scene."

This is the second time I have had to report on an Orlando artist taking their own life. This news was gut wrenching since Berto is an artist whose art I admired. Will Benton who runs FAVO allowed me to sketch the artist's studio. A rough cross which was painted white with artist brushes, vines and a tear shaped jewel was mounted on the studio door. Inside, his paintings filled the walls. One painting of a small skiff or life boat pitched in the high seas. In the distance a sign of hope, a large schooner was shrouded in orange ocher mist.

A large portrait was left for Will Benton. It was a portrait of a man that once saved Berto's life. He and a woman were working in a store which was held up by an armed gunman. The husband of the woman grew worried when she didn't return home. He went to the store and managed to save Berto and the woman's life. It is a large painting, stoic and resolved. A note written by Berto was taped to the back of the painting. "Will, to say I'm sorry for all this is furtive, but I'll say it anyway. There have been few people who have extended themselves to me like you have, and I really like you like a brother for that. I can't say enough how I have always appreciated you." I searched the rest of the note, hoping to find some hint of WHY? There were no signs to explain the tragedy. All that remains is an emptiness. A lone chair sat in the corner of the once active artist's studio.

"When I have a terrible need of - shall I say the word - religion. Then I go out and paint the stars."
- Vincent Van Gogh

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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