Otero’s signature approach to visual storytelling synthesizes magical realism and abstraction, the observed and the imagined, and the past and the present, through a labor-intensive process of laying down, peeling, and collaging oil paint. Drawing from his personal memories of growing up in Puerto Rico and the gestural mark-making of artists whose work he first discovered in books as a child––Picasso, de Kooning, and Pollock, for example––Otero has invented a visual realm that evokes the enchanting and sometimes strange ways in which everyday objects become personified through the lens of memory.
While a few of the new works are predominantly abstract in nature, like ‘One Hundred Dreams From Now’ (2022), numerous compositions also represent quotidian objects that Otero has imbued with surreal qualities––blurring the line between gesture and allusion, documentation and recollection to evoke a dreamlike state of consciousness. In the work titled ‘Concerto’ (2022), an upright piano from Otero’s studio, a former church in upstate New York, sits against an undulating crimson background. The instrument is surrounded by objects that have become staples of Otero’s visual language––paint buckets, an old table lamp, an aluminum cooking pot and dentures soaking in a drinking glass. Meanwhile, a school of goldfish––another recurrent motif––rains down upon the piano’s keys in a hypnagogic melodic performance. Below, the floor is covered by ceramic tiles decorated with a pattern inspired by traditional tiles from sixteenth century Spain. Found throughout homes in Puerto Rico, the tiles reflect both the artist’s personal recollections and the collective memory of colonialism.
In a reversal of the typical painting process, Otero begins each new work by painting the foreground scene on plexiglass first and then working backward, in layers, so the background, frequently inspired by historical abstract masterpieces, is painted last. He then builds in a layer of fabric to hold the entire structure together before scraping it off and fixing it onto canvas.
After the oil skin is scraped and adhered to canvas, Otero continues to add to the surface, collaging images of items like pots and pans and window shutters, from a repository of previously made works to create an entirely new, multilayered composition. In this way, the artist merges process and intent: through the skilled layering and mixing of fragments from different sources, he effectively emulates the ways in which our memories of the past, imprecise and frequently distorted, are pieced together to construct our present.
In the painting ‘Behind Curtains’ (2022), the viewer is positioned just outside an arched doorway that frames an inviting yet disorienting space: A sheer curtain of crocheted lace obscures the details of a room rich with bright colors and textures, while the diagonal composition of a wooden sculpture made from old furniture levitates above the floor. The curtain’s floral patten reappears on a bedspread in the painting ‘Mi Acuario’ (2022), in which Bright blue and yellow sea kelp have taken over the room like an overgrown garden, transforming it into a fantastical, human-sized fish tank.
About the Artist
Angel Otero was born in 1981 in Santurce, Puerto Rico, where he resided until moving to Chicago in 2004, where he received his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Otero’s practice is known for employing highly innovative techniques that challenge the parameters of his materials, revealing the intrinsic qualities of paint. His works are rooted in abstract image making and engage with ideas of memory through addressing art history, as well as his own lived experience. Otero is well known for the Oil Skin works he began in 2010, an ongoing series that demonstrates the inherently transformative nature of the artist’s practice as well as his dedication to expanding the visual field of abstract expressionism.
On view in New York
‘Angel Otero. Swimming Where Time Was’ is now on view now through 23 December 2022 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.
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