All artists can tell you that they were dreamers and doodlers at an early age and Ordonel Espinosa was no exception. He can remember around the age of 8 seeing visions in his mind and jotted them down on his notebook all too often while in class. The teachers soon recognized his talent and frequently asked for his help in painting the background of the stage for school functions which he enjoyed doing.
Ordonel got his first recognition when he entered a drawing contest while attending the Eugenio M. de Hostos High School in Mayaguez and not only did he win 1st prize, his drawing was exhibited at various schools throughout Puerto Rico.
He moved to New Jersey while still in High School to live with his Mother after his parents divorced and it was here that an important defining moment occurred when he walked into his younger brother‘s room to find him painting with oils. This is where his romance with oil painting began and to hear him speak you might think he was describing a sensuous perfume instead of funky smelling oil paints. All of his five brothers can draw but Ordonel was the only one who pursued his God given talents.
The lovely Margarita Sanchez was Ordonel’s teen sweetheart when he left and at the age of 18, he returned to Puerto Rico to marry her and together they went to live in Paterson, New Jersey where they started a family. During the period from 1969 to 1974 he studied at the Washington School of Art in New York while working at the US Defense Department’s plant in Wayne, New Jersey. As he reflects over his 41 years of marriage to Margarita, he admits it was not easy pursuing his passion for painting and being an attentive, loving husband to Margarita and father to his three children Esther, Elizabeth and Ordonel Jr.
Life is a bumpy road with twist and turns that detour our hopes and dreams and at times imbed wounds that last a lifetime such as when he joined the Paterson Artist League. He was so excited when told he could participate in an exhibition but upon arriving with his paintings was surprised that only one other artist, a photographer for a local Paterson newspaper was exhibiting. Ordonel couldn’t understand what happened to the other members and the press that was suposed to be present. Alexander, the photographer later explained the cruel reality of life that the other members did not want to exhibit their work with his photos because he was an African American and while Ordonel looked “white”, he was still a Puerto Rican. El Jibaro de Mayaguez felt that he had been shot a cruel blow and as a result lost interest in painting for quite some time.
Today we have Puerto Rican’s in all positions, even on the Supreme Court of the United States. But back in those days life was difficult even if you were a fair skinned Puerto Rican. I understood all too well the pain Ordonel felt as he told this episode in his life because I too being a fair skinned Puerto Rican in NY had experienced discrimination, not only from bigots but from Puerto Ricans themselves because I dressed differently and spoke English well enough for them to confuse me as a “white” person and from blacks too because I didn’t look Puerto Rican. Life was difficult and at times cruel for Puerto Rican’s no matter the tone of their skin or the accent of their speech. Oh! Let’s not forget the discrimination of the Island Puerto Rican’s who looked down at us and called us “New Yor’ricans”. To my readers, I must add that those times did not take away the joy from my life because there were so many wonderful people who accepted us for who we were as individuals with hopes and dreams instead of branding us like cattle. Unfortunately, this incident left Ordonel at an ugly crossroad in his life and with no one to give him guidance; he did the unthinkable and stopped painting. Out the window went all his dreams of moving to Paris and immediately reality stepped into his shoes and the world was not a beautiful canvas board with the sensuous sent of oil paints.
Upon his return to Puerto Rico he started working for Westinghouse. During his time with the company he rose through the ranks and transitioned to the management division as Production Supervisor. But as fate always works a devilish turn, he started to hang out with his friend from work drinking and coming home late. This behavior put a strain on his marriage with Margarita but then one day he had a vision from above where he saw the sky open and Jesus Christ was descending on a white cloud coming down to get him. To Ordonel this was no ordinary vision like when he painted, this was a knock on his door from God to change and leave the fast track. He went to study Theology and graduated from Colegio del Caribe, Assembly of God with high grades. During this time Margarita witness the change in Ordonel and their life began to get sweet again.
The management at Westinghouse found out that he was an artist and the General Manager asked if he would paint a mural for the cafeteria which he did. This new work entitled “La Dinamica del Trabajador” was a beautiful work of art that measured 9’ by 15’. The chain of events was working its wonders and Ordonel after so many years started painting again.
Around this time, he also moved over to General Electric as their Production Supervisor and returned to school again to study Business Administration at the Colegio Inter-American. Now Ordonel was jumping with creative energy working to provide for his family as he always did but now, he painted with a conviction which was missing in his earlier years.
I was astonished to learn that he has sold over 200 to 250 painting and in total has created close to 500 painting. Wow! Is all I could say to this discovery during our interview and secretly wondered if he really fit in my mission statement for Art In Review.
Ordonel’s mission is to paint as many sites in Puerto Rico for preservation before it becomes an island of cement buildings. Since this interview, he has continued to express his creativity, his love of nature and continues to explore new painting techniques.
Interviewed by: Maguida aka Marie M. Rivera
Interview Date: January 21st, 2010