Photo credit: Elena Zhukova & Matt Perko
Elisa Ortega Montilla is an artist currently based between California and Spain (Barcelona). Before shifting her focus to art, Elisa spent over a decade as a social worker in Spain, Guatemala and California.
She completed a Master of Fine Arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2019 and was chosen as the university's 2019-2020 Artist-in-Residence. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Hyperallergic, KCRW, LUM Art Magazine, and the University of California's Women's Month, among other places. Her work has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in Spain, Guatemala, Mexico and across the US, including in the Sur Biennial at the Torrance Art Museum, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, AD&A Museum in Santa Barbara, Centro de Arte Rafael Botí, and Eduardo Chillida Cultural Center in Madrid. She has also participated in the International QiPO Art Fair in Mexico City as well as Spring/Break Art Fair in Los Angeles.
Elisa's solo exhibition The Untold History toured Spain from 2017 to 2022, and in the spring of 2021 had her first solo museum show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, titled Objectifying. Her new body of work explores the body in a sensual way through non-binary anthropomorphic forms made out of wood and second-hand undergarments. In 2021, she was awarded an Emerging Artist Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
Growing up in the 1980s in Spain, ten years after my country transitioned from dictatorship to democracy, has marked the way I relate to materials in my art practice. I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother about the Spanish Civil War while she mended hand-me-downs for me from my cousins. What was a result of economic austerity from the Franco years later became an ethical choice for me.
My work explores three fundamental parts of who I am: my experience of being a woman and my feminist values; my feelings of acculturation from living in the US while maintaining my Spanish identity; and my opposition to consumerism and commitment to environmental sustainability.
My practice uses installations, wood sculptures, and reclaimed and overlooked textiles, addressing themes of memory, transformation, adaptation, and identity through materials that have been discarded, deconstructed, and reconstructed. I mix the found and the made, the new and the old; tradition and experimentation, the mass-produced and the handmade; my Spanish values and my American experience, the present and the past.
I’m drawn to the expressive and experiential nature of abstraction because it provides me with a universal language that transcends regions, structures, and categories. Non-binary anthropomorphic volumes, bodily suggestions, sensual movements, and feminine shapes are oblique references to the human condition and a soft invocation of the female body.