Inside the Artist's Studio: Angel Otero in Ridgewood 

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Are there any artists who've had a really strong influence on you?
I love painters, I'm always checking on painters. Lately I've been checking a lot of Bonnard paintings.

Have you seen any shows recently that have really marked you?
I saw that Rauschenberg show at Gagosian, I thought that was gorgeous, I really like Rauschenberg a lot. The MoMA abstraction show was good; I mean obviously it's paintings that I've seen all over in books, but I loved it. Abstraction was really what hooked me up. For me painting was like painting a landscape, a mountain, a tree, or a portrait of people or food. And then this dude showed me these paintings and said: "You know this is the most famous artist in the world?" And it's this dude just throwing paint at the canvas. I was in shock, but at the same time it felt so good to know that people considered that art because it looked so liberating. Abstraction was the main thing in art that grabbed me.

I went to Chicago [for school] totally ignorant of contemporary art. It was so embarrassing because I didn't know who Jeff Koons was, or Damien Hirst. And I remember people talking about them and being like, "Murakami, who the hell?" Contemporary art for me was Basquiat and Jackson Pollock, and that was it. The professor said, "Everybody stand up, say your name, where you're from and your favorite contemporary artist," and I was the only stupid ass who said Jackson Pollock and everybody started bursting with laughter and the professor said: "How does it feel to live in the 50s, Angel?" And I didn't even get the joke, I was like, "I love the 50s." But it put me on track to be really honest. Those moments, those kind of embarrassing, whipping moments they put me on track. Now I'm like a super-freak of knowing who's out there and reading about them.

I like this painting ["Couch Habits"] a lot because it looks like some painter's couch full of paint. It reminds me of Lucian Freud a lot. I like it because Philip Guston has a couch, Freud has a couch, almost every figurative painter does a couch; this is my couch. Everything was yellow originally, and it didn't come through. I painted everything yellow and then we covered it with brown. I wish I could keep this one, but I don't have the guts yet.

Do you have any of your own work at home?
I have a few pieces, but not a lot. I get bored sometimes. Honestly right now I'm dying for them to take this shit, because I've been looking at it for so long. This is the oldest piece here, I finished it before Miami, but all of it was done in the period of two months, maybe a little less. It's been fast.

Did you show a lot of work at Art Basel Miami?
Yeah they showed around six pieces, there was a big presentation. And I really wanted to do it because it was Miami, and at the same time it was a promotion for this show. That was the first time that I was showing this process, or at least at this scale, and I was really wondering how people would react to it and it was really positive. People that I knew whose eye I trust were really happy with it. They were shocked, which is good. I was worried that the gallery was going to be like, "No Angel, the work we like is what you were doing before." But the truth is that I never expanded that work that much, this was more interesting. I couldn't say no.

Do you know any of the other artists in this building?
I know everyone because I'm one of the first ones plus I'm the only one that speaks Spanish and the person that fixes stuff doesn't speak English, so I'm like the translator for this building. But there's several good artists in the building. I remember during Bushwick Open Studios, I didn't know what it was and I walked around and there was some really cool stuff. But yeah, I know everybody here, everybody's super-cool. They come in, sometimes they knock, which I don't mind, but sometimes it's a little difficult because I'm in the middle of something and I like giving attention to people. There's always something new in here. There are so many artists always moving here.

(Photos by Lou Gruber)

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