Ran Ortner was born in 1959 in San Francisco and raised in rural Alaska. His first career was as a professional motorcycle racer.  He continues to ride and remains an avid surfer. 

In 1990, Ortner moved to Brooklyn and spent two decades working in solitude. Over time Ortner’s work became reductive, eventually distilling into a minimalist language. It was in this period of engagement with minimalism that Ortner discovered recurring motifs that evoked both the expansive feeling of the ocean and visceral body memories from decades of surfing. 

In 2005 Ortner began to confront his life long intoxication with the ocean. Influenced by the emotional complexity of great old master paintings, Ortner began to explore a particular kind of intensity realized through the layering of oil paint. Through this process Ortner holds both the muscular immediacy and the delicacy he experiences in the ocean. 

In 2009 Ortner won the inaugural ArtPrize competition. The win was covered by The New York Times as well as the WSJ, BBC and NPR Studio 360. 

In 2011, Ortner's ‘Deep Water No. 1' was selected as the visual centerpiece of Le Bernardin and was featured in The New York Times. The following year Ortner was the focus of a long form interview on his life’s and work for The Sun Magazine’s issue on creativity. 

In 2013 the Dutch government commissioned ‘Element No. 5' as the visual centerpiece for the United Nations, World Water Day at the World Forum in The Hague. 

In 2014 Ortner’s work was selected by Ray Smith for Mana Contemporary’s inaugural show entitled All The Best Artists Are My Friends.

In 2015, two of Ortner’s large paintings were on display at 7 World Trade Center at the invitation of Larry and Klara Silverstein. Element No. 1 was acquired to be permanently installed in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center. 

In January 2016, Ortner opened a solo exhibition of paintings at Robert Miller Gallery in New York. 

In March 2016, The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College presented a selection of Ortner’s works in a solo exhibition titled These This.

Ortner continues to work from his studio in Brooklyn.