How do you go from drawing “Hello Kitty” to becoming one of the fastest-rising young stars in art? Angel Otero explains below and his artwork speaks for itself. He has a unique ability to make paint sculptural and this has garnered him the great praise and attention of the art world.
His technique involves layering oil paint on a mirrored surface, then scraping off the dried strips and gluing them to a canvas. He then squeezes paint and silicon onto the canvas to create blotches, wrinkles and smears to create different textures and dimensions. In some areas the paint can appear fabric-like, while in other areas it can take on the look of tar or gum. Angel’s technique calls to mind “memories which, as time passes, become layered and reconfigured into something that only obliquely resemble their source.” (thanks Chicago Art Magazine for this great explanation of technique.)
Angel’s work has been shown alongside some of the most important contemporary artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and he’s been awarded prestigious grants that have relocated him from Chicago to New York (both a long way from his native Puerto Rico.)
Enjoy your online gallery tour of Angel Otero’s stirring work and words! And remember his name – there’s much more to come from him….
You’ve said that you didn’t grow up with a lot of art and culture. Who introduced you to painting? And how did you discover your talent for it?
An older girl in the neighborhood drew a picture of “Hello Kitty” in front of me without tracing it…it shocked me to see her draw the same figure just by looking at it. I asked her to show me how to do that and she did. I got addicted to this process and drew Hello Kitty more than a 100 times until I reached my own perception of perfection with this character. After that, my ambition grew and I started drawing super heroes, then my family, and then painting landscapes, and so on.
In your current work, somehow you make paint look 3-dimensional — and in some pieces, like “Untitled (Portrait of my Grandma’s Table),” your work looks sculptural. You can do things with oil paints that seem totally new. Can you describe the kind of art you do? And some of your process?
The idea is to treat paint in a sculptural way. All the paintings have a tri-dimensional approach, so I take oil paint and use it dry, creating collage with it on the canvas. I both play with the idea of illusion, as well as the history of oil painting. The layering is like our memories — the years begin to muddle the truth, and our new memories of what was may only vaguely resemble the original source.
You do a lot of still lifes, albeit with a contemporary and unique twist. Which still life masters influence you?
I look a lot at Matisse’s still lifes because of their play with dimension, perspective and paint all mixed up. Matisse’s work feels honest and also demonstrates his challenge to the contemporary art world back in his day.
You grew up in Puerto Rico. How does this inform the work you do?
My work starts from a very personal reference and lots of times that reference is my home — my house and my grandma who raised me. I think about what was around my house that I want to consider in my art now. Those objects or memories are translated through the process of my work.
You were recently one of only four artists awarded the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship which will support your work over a two year period in New York. What will you hope the experience will bring?
I hope to use it economically very wisely, investing it in my work, studio, materials and research for new and more ambitious work.
Your painting “Exquisito” was included in the “Constellations” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago along with art all-stars like Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Brice Marden and Jasper Johns. What was that like and what happens as a result?
This was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was like stepping back into one of my dreams. These are all artists who have influenced me, and you think it would be impossible to reach a point of being next to them.
Practically speaking, the experience brought me a more confident approach in my work and it gave other people reason to look more seriously at my art.
When my young son gets frustrated with an art project he’s working on, I try to explain to him that art is a process and things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. How do you deal with your own work — do you ever get frustrated or do you accept whatever unfolds before you?
In my studio, accidents happen lots of times and things don’t go like I wish. But in my process, accidents play with the idea of destiny and sometimes those accidents bring some of the most beautiful essence into the world, the human side of it.
I think it’s gorgeous when I start out thinking I’ll go down one path on a piece and then end up on another path. Stepping into that unexpected new world can be personally more challenging…that’s when art happens in my studio.
My favorite snack is: Oreos and milk
Don’t ask me to: look down from a high place
I would put into a time capsule my: grandma
My favorite place is: the ocean
When I have a creative block I: browse random library books