Currently on view at Lehmann Maupin, artist Angel Otero’s Milagros, marks a new trajectory for the artist, a series of recent, large-scale tapestry-like oil paintings that hang entirely free from a stretcher bar and which twist and pull the notion of the composed canvas through a series of rigorous conceptual and formal exercises. Working with the history of painterly abstraction and the fusions of sculptural and painterly form that have wound through this history, the artist’s works draw on a mixture of collage and composition.
Drawing much of his inspiration from the inherent qualities of oil paint, Otero uses collage and materiality as he explores the potential for abstraction to engage issues of identity as well as form, color, and line. Through a methodically innovative process, he paints figures and forms onto large sheets of glass, scrapes the partially dried oil paint from the surface, and then reassembles and often collages the “skins” into multi-layered compositions, creating a fusion of bodies and figures, identities and ideas united by a single shared picture plane. For this body of work, Otero has continued to elaborate on this practice, using his recent show at The Bronx Museum of the Arts as a jumping off point.
The artist’s work here is based on a similar mode of fragmentation and recomposition, albeit using smaller, and more varied sizes, shape, and pigments in each of his parts and pieces. Years of saved and salvaged materials are arranged together here, compiling vast stretches of time and gesture through serpentine movements across the canvas, over its limits or even through strange loops of material that seem to replicate the brush stroke itself. These recent paintings also reference Otero’s personal history more directly. Red Milagro (2018), composed of pieces of past paintings, connects his process with the Milagro objects that fascinated him as a child. The small, metal Catholic charms affixed to sacred objects, which he eventually inherited as precious family heirlooms, are carried for protection or luck. By collecting and then collaging fragments of past work, Otero imbues each painting with a similar reverent display that pays homage to his familial tradition as well as his own history as a painter.
Through years of careful observation of the intricacies and structural tendencies of material, Otero has forged an individualistic process and style through the use of these paint skins, and the endeavor of combining or unifying distinct time periods together as a mode of reclamation or reinterpretation of memory. For Otero, a solution to expanding the genre of painting in contemporary art lies in an exploration of this transition between representation and abstraction, both using the weight of past time, and its constant reprisals, as a new way forward. In this way, the paint itself emerges as a crucial conceptual component, mobilizing ideas of chance, conveyance, and aesthetic vernacular, while the images and themes it visualizes become fragments or parts of a broader, shared history.
The show is on view through April 20th.
— D. Creahan
Angel Otero: Milagros at Lehmann Maupin [Exhibition Page]