Photographs by Wren Ortiz & Jackie Zhao
Wren Ortiz is on a mission to redistribute wealth.
When you find Wren’s pieces at a market, you might be surprised to know that the connection you feel with a piece is a currency for transaction. Wren sells their pieces for a low price, at sliding scale, particularly to people of color and from the LGBTQI community. If you connect with it, you can have it.
Wren’s pieces are marked with illustrations that symbolize their thought process and communication. Each line carved means something to them. Wren considers themself a highly analytical person who spends a lot of time thinking about connections between people and of loved ones in their life.
On symbols in their work, “I try to find the balance between seeing several perspectives at once, while still allowing things to shift. I am the type of person who has a lot of clarity when it comes to how I interpret an interaction or a difficult situation. What I like about line drawing is that it’s so simple, and for me, little markings feel really loaded.” The curved lines and markings that resemble X’s and U’s have their own personality and thought process behind them. An X is an intersection and a meeting place - and, in Wren’s mind, it’s not limited to space, but represents a moment in time of crossing.
The orange spots on the surface that are coarser in texture are dug from the streets of Wren’s childhood home in Puerto Rico. A perfect recipe of lavender glaze stands out against the robust, sandy reds of each body. Every decision is thoughtfully made, emotionally constructed, crafted with the idea of the future owner in mind: a person who will feel a gentle tug at the heart when their fingers meet the piece.
Wren was born in Massachusetts and raised in Puerto Rico to a family of artists. Their father is an architect and urban designer, who paints and plays music often. Wren depicted a mental scene of their childhood home where a plethora of prints and paintings were strewn about, and music flowed freely through the rooms.
When I met Wren, I could tell they spoke from a deep place in their heart, and that creating and sharing this connection with others through making creates for them meaning. Personal exchange and gift giving around making are values that Wren grew up with, and ones that inform everything they do.
Wren picked up art because it was simply a way of being. In their free time, they perform with a local band in the prolific Austin, Texas music scene. Wren records music in their room, because they prefer the intimacy of the sound produced, and is keen on making art an accessible practice in creation and output.
Wren told me, “My goal to make work that my friends can actually buy, and the community that I’m involved in can access. Especially with ceramics, there are many spaces that aren’t typically accessible to people of color, people who are mixed, queer, and trans - these communities feel really far away from ceramics, in the way that the craft is most visible.”
“A lot of my creative practices have manifested in places that are more autonomous or ones that break off of institutional spaces that are bureaucratic. I really want to keep it that way. This is why I love making ‘bedroom ceramics’. They fall into everything else that I’ve done so far. For example, when I record music, that’s something that is typically done in my room. It feels really intimate and personal, and it’s something that I want to share, but it’s intentionally lo-fi and low scale. It’s nice to share a version of that with people who reach out to me for commissions, because it’s a very informal process, and it feels more personal that way.”
I chatted with Wren about the themes of gallery space and the accessibility of craft. Wren mused that they would love to put on a show at a crisp, white gallery space, and to invite all friends, friends of friends, and people who wouldn’t typically be in that space to attend. They would showcase large scale pieces that are priced incredibly low, and the transaction could happen at a first come first serve basis.
“If you got here first, if you connected with it first, you can have it. If you’re able to pick it up, you can have it,” Wren smiled.
At a former show, Wren displayed a large greenware vessel that was unfinished. For the first thirty minutes of the show, they lay with their head inside of it, and drew on the outside of it, dug into it, and slapped slip onto it - without being able to see what they were doing. Initially, people simply watched Wren perform with clay, and after a while, Wren extended their hands with tools and people came forward and began to make their own marks.
Wren remarked on the experience, “It was pretty goofy, but it felt heavy at the same time to do that in front of an audience. I want to make work that people wouldn’t normally touch in a gallery space and then force them to engage, like pressing their faces against it. Clay is fragile, but work that is that large and heavy is often not, and should be touched and engaged with. It can be intimidating to people because of the scale, and the work that they know goes into it - but I’d like to break that wall and have people participate.”
Wren moved to Austin with a former partner, and chose it on a whim for its newness and change of pace from Vermont, where they went to school. Not a lot of weight was placed on the decision, but they’ve been able to find in Austin the communities they consciously want to be a part of. Wren spoke of gentrification in East Austin, and how many minority communities are being pushed out of their homes with the arrival of new businesses. In their personal practice, Wren is very sensitive to the spaces where they exhibit their work as well as to how they engage with communities.
In their free time, Wren works as a technician in a local pottery studio to support their practice. They’re striving to make it financially viable for them to continue to work in a way that highlights their values, while maintaining a sustainable practice.
Wren and I spoke about how clay has fed into other parts of life, and the lessons contained within its practice. Wren told me, “My favorite thing about clay is that you can reuse it. I put a lot of time and labor - and, a lot of emotion - into a piece. Then for the piece to not work out in the end and dumping it back into a bucket - that is so exciting to me. To be forced to practice that detachment, and so much about ceramics is about this. It’s really helped me move through other parts of my life in that way. Which is not to say that I’m a floating detached person (laughs), but I think it’s a really powerful and interesting thing to practice: letting go of things that have a life of its own. Truly.”