Matt and Roxy Ortiz Do Their Part
Text by Sonny Ganaden | Images by John Hook
Matt and Roxy Ortiz, the duo behind the creative consulting company VERS, are community- minded artists. And in their community of Kaka‘ako, not even the littlest of creatures is ignored. As Roxy explains about what it’s like working out of Lana Lane, a reconverted warehouse now functioning as artist work spaces, she feeds grains of rice to an adopted, fledgling mynah bird she and Matt call Rookiebird. “He’s two months old now,” says Roxy. “When we first got him, he was just this little alien-looking creature. We’re just his foster parents now.”
Matt and Roxy originally set up shop at Lana Lane in 2011 as participating artists of Pow Wow Hawai‘i, a gathering of urban international and local artists whose work can still be seen on the walls and streets of Kaka‘ako. “It’s great being around other creative people,” says Matt of working out of the co-op-style space. “There’s a music studio in here, other visual artists all doing their thing—if it gets too hectic, we just shut the door and get work done.”
Whether with the community or on paper, Matt and Roxy are about connecting. “We chose the name VERS because we’re all about making lines,” says Matt, “like in a poem, surfing, writing, or in our case, drawing.” VERS’ designs are a counterpoint to the ubiquitous aesthetic of bold typeface and hyper-clean, highly processed art on corporate logos. By simplifying the creative process, their work—printed and painted on T-shirts, walls, and note cards alike—maintains the resonance of the hand-drawn image. “We go from sketch, to drawing, to finished piece, to scanned image,” says Matt. “It never begins on the computer.”
Naturally, in a place like Hawai‘i, much of their work deals with themes of nature and cultural identity. “As an artist, I’m just trying to be responsible in the way that I conduct myself environmentally, culturally, socially,” says Matt. “I’m not trying to save the world.”
In a way, though, they are. The prints for their Treehouse Series are visually playful: dreamy images of tree houses resembling the Lost Boys’ abode from Hook (but with skate ramps and solar panels); but also are inspired by the whimsical idea of a self-sustaining community built in the trees. “Or as we like to call it, ‘off the grid and off the ground.’ It’s about having fun—” says Matt, and “sustainability, too,” Roxy chimes in.
“It’s important to adapt, to always stay with the times, whether it be technology, current events or techniques,” says Matt. “It’s also just going with the flow and hoping that you don’t get left behind.” Roxy, meanwhile, feeds Rookiebird, the smallest member of their community, the last of his rice.
For more on VERS’ hand-drawn illustration, lettering, logo designs, and wedding invites, visit vershawaii.com.