Angel Otero refers to his paintings as oil paint skins. With a better understanding of his process, one soon realizes he employs an array of procedures resembling that of printmaking, sculpture, tapestry weaving, collage, and other artistic methods. The works of art encompass more than the standard of traditional painting. In a walk-through conversation with curator Valerie Cassel Oliver for his museum show “Everything and Nothing” in Houston, Texas, he says his process-driven work was developed out of a need to create something that had not been done before in painting. His paintings are made by applying several layers of oil paint on Plexiglas. He allows the painting to dry slightly before scraping off the colors and medium then reapplying it to another support surface. The overall image, once revealed, affixed to a foundation, are tattered, fragmented, and disjointed. Images and painted passages become scrambled looking. They bring to mind a subway poster that has been worked over again and again by layers of other advertisements and graffiti as a result of the environment in which it exists. In another way, the skins resemble Chaim Soutine’s hanging carcass. The painting remnants are dried, adhered to a support and left on the walls, hanging, like a trophy. I imagine the surfaces before stabilized onto the canvases or structures are fragile and could fall apart. In essence, Otero process destroys a traditional method of painting in order to breathe life by adding and make new for him a unique definition of painting.
The color and graphic representation of the images bring to mind the works of Willem de Kooning, Alberto Burri, Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, to name a few. The artists mentioned are part of a cannon rooted within a European tradition and The New York School of painting. Otero’s roots, on the other hand, is neither. The Brooklyn based artist was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Ortero arrived at painting as an American but from the beautiful Commonwealth island in the northeast Caribbean Sea which I believe, allowed Ortero to reference western painting but not be dedicated to the purities and romantic aspects of the history. The unconventional method in which he produces artworks permitted him to challenge painting with attitude rooted within his own sensibility of an islander.
Otero has said his own work has to do with memory, both with art historical references and with his own. In recent works, he’s begun adding collage materials that reference aspects of his own childhood. In an early work titled “Blue Still Life,” 2010, oil skins on canvas, 60” x 48” Ortero created a still life of flowers in a vase that sits on top of crochet fabric. The artist said the image was based on a memory he had of objects when he was growing up that he saw in his grandmother’s house. The paint used to create the flowers in the still life were the results of dried paint that had accumulated on his palette. He collaged the chunks of paint onto the surface to create the arrangement of flora. He produced the crochet fabric upon which the flower arrangement sits, using silicone. The overall palette of the paint is dark in cool/black and blue tones, perhaps to evoke distance and time. When we look at a recent work “Dreaming in Blue (To Arnaldo Roche)”, 2019, Oil skins on fabric, 105” x 144” x 7” we see a similar scenario to that of “Blue Still Life” through a new iteration. “Dreaming in Blue” consist of paint skins that look as if they were put through a large shedder and assembled around a blue crocheted fabric. Perhaps the artist is referencing his grandmother’s crochet decoration again by using an actual fabric and the shredded paint skins no longer represent the flowers they once created in the earlier still life, but instead, they have become the own artist’s fauna. The collaged paint skins came about from the remnants of some previous works.
The new works by Otero resemble dried slabs of meat. He has skinned Painting after killing it and has sewed it back together as one of Mary Shelly’s creatures. With amusement, it is interesting to see where Otero will go with his new discovered assembled process. Will they continue to have a life? Will the process be fruitful enough to continue on into a broader tradition of painting? There are several unknowns in his Frankenstein creation. To which all suggest the excitement of what makes painting possible even if it resembles something that might be dead.