Angel Otero creates whimsical, dreamy art that reflects a yearning for an unreachable past which is all the more beautiful because it's steeped in Otero’s nostalgic, rose-colored-glasses vision about his childhood in Puerto Rico. "Touch With Your Eyes" is the title of this stirringly beautiful exhibition of oil paintings, most adorned with pop-out silicone features, on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until March 28. A recent MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a recipient of the prestigious Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, Otero has been bestowed with a $150,000 grant to support his post-graduate work in New York for the next two years.
Walking around the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center and admiring Otero's works, I, in fact, do a great deal of touching with my eyes. Take for example, the first piece in the show, Untitled - Portrait of My Grandma's Table, 2009. A sculptural recreation of a table that is half submerged against a wall and bent at the end towards the viewer. The table evokes a home filled with magic, coziness and dreams. The twisted porcelain vase at the bottom, along with the tablecloth made of mesh wires, epitomizes what Otero does best: draw in viewers through a configuration that shows the tension between two and three dimensions.
Angel Otero. The Golden Vase. 2009. Oil, oil skins, silicone, spray paint on canvas. 84" x 72". Image courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery.
Otero's memories of home take the form of an ornate table, or as colorful pink and gold flowers in a vase, or a gold horse that pops out at the viewer, reminding you of a disappeared, precious past that you may not know, yet is still familiar.
Even Night Thirst, an all-black painting, pulls you in. Also made with oil and silicone, the decorative vase with flowers and square pattern allows the viewer to experience the sensuality and frozen beauty of experience of grandma's house, this time without even using color. Olivia, contains a gold horse made of silicone on a black background. The flowers, which seem to flow from the horse dance and wander, conveying the romantic spirit of nomadic adventure. Like the wire mesh tablecloth that leaps off the painting in its palpable form, Otero suggests that home is where the imagination first comes to life, and for this reason should not be forgotten.
Other works, such as Saints III, an all-black painting alluding to religious themes of Madonna and child, failed to move me in the same way as Otero's home-inspired works. And I find Untitled, Portrait of My Grandma's Couch with gobs of paint, empty frames and bits of paper, more jangled than evocative, although it still does the job of creating a sensual experience for the eyes.
Golden Vase III in it's simplicity seems to contain Otero’s key messages. I can touch the gold vase made of silicone with my eyes, and the purple, pink, and orange flowers, looking half alive and half dead, bespeak wisdom about the dangerous passing of time. Beauty and death are always intertwined, Otero tells us. The wire mesh design of grandma's table is a moveable landscape, transporting me to her house in Puerto Rico, where she waits, perhaps with tea and sweets, with the promise of escape from the all too serious world.
(top image: Angel Otero, Anticipation, 2009, silicone, spray paint and oil on canvas, 34 x 40 in. Courtesy of Jim and Ginger Meyer, Chicago.)