Local artist emerges as major force in Texas Democratic politics

  • Artist Cruz Ortiz silk- screened “Beto por Tejas” T-shirts last month at a town hall in San Antonio. Photo: William Luther / San Antonio Express-News / © 2018 San Antonio Express-News

In the middle of a town hall last month at the Ella Austin Community Center, U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke pointed to the back of the auditorium, where San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz was busy silk-screening “Beto por Tejas” T-shirts for audience members.

O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, praised Ortiz as one of the greatest visual artists in the nation and cited his support as an example of the creative energy O’Rourke’s Senate campaign is generating.

Ortiz and his Snake Hawk Press team took some of that energy to Austin this week, where they screen-printed 150 O’Rourke posters Wednesday afternoon in the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose for the offshoot South by Southwest music festival known as South by San Jose. This spring, Ortiz will take his vintage press on the road with O’Rourke for some general-election barnstorming in the Rio Grande Valley.

Ortiz is that rare artist who can create cutting-edge work with mass appeal. After all, at any given time, you can find his Chicano pop art simultaneously gracing museum walls and Papa John’s pizza boxes.

That talent has turned him into a key player in Texas Democratic politics, lending a patina of hip irreverence this year to the campaigns of O’Rourke, gubernatorial contender Andrew White and U.S. District 23 candidate Gina Ortiz Jones.

It’s easy to see what Ortiz brings to a political campaign: a heady combination of South Side street-level immediacy and artsy agitprop cachet — an instant connection to the Latino community and do-it-yourself punk rockers.

“Cruz has this unique way of using art to reach…

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