Angel Otero's first solo show in New York, Memento, is on view at Lehmann Maupin (201 Chrystie Street) February 17-April 17, with an opening reception from 6-8pm on the 17th.
How do you begin a painting?
The work starts from a very personal point. I'm using oil paint but in reverse, so I paint on glass, and I paint in a very traditional way with oil paint and brushes. After I'm done with the imagery or text we cover that with a whole layer of oil paint. And from there it goes to dry for a while and after a month or a few weeks we scrape it very slowly and it comes out with a really interesting texture. It's kind of like a transfer, because I also have to be thinking in reverse. In a traditional painting you paint a background, you paint a chair and you paint the model in the chair, and here I've got to paint the model, the chair and then cover that with the background. It's very challenging, which makes it really beautiful. And oil has such a heavy history behind it, and a lot of things are very difficult to control in the process. It sometimes gets very very messed up in a good way. It kind of distorts the very personal part of it.
Would you say your work is autobiographic?
It starts from a very personal place, but the pieces are not done in a way to try to construct a narrative. I'm not trying to tell stories about my family or personal point of view, I just use it like a tool. It's kind of like confronting memories, but without wanting to scream it out. I'm very shy and very timid, and I like the process because it breaks the obviousness of what's behind it.
It plays a lot with the history of painting, and since I was young I've been in love with painters and painting in general. Painting is a medium that goes through a lot of challenges in art history with people saying it's dead or people not doing anything new with it, so I always have wanted to use very traditional materials in a different way. I'm excited about the work, because I'm not sure how things are gonna come out. So I paint it, I cover it, and then later when we scrape it out sometimes I really don't like it. Or, like this piece was originally this crazy plant with all these shoes hanging from it, and it just totally got lost. But it's beautiful, it shows this overlaying of processes.
It's almost like sculpture, really.
It's very sculptural, it has a very sculptural approach. And even converting the oil painting into something else but still being what it is, makes it this object that you kind of treat in a sculptural way. When we are creating this it pretty much looks like we're wrapping something. It's an extremely delicate material after we scrape it because it's kind of half wet and half dry, and we just let it slide slowly onto the canvas until it sticks to the layer of resin.