Angel Otero (b. 1981, Santurce, Puerto Rico; lives and works in Brooklyn, New York) is best known for his process-based paintings, collages, and sculptural works that venerate the inherent qualities of his material of choice, oil paint. Employing various methods of collage, Otero explores the potential for abstraction to meaningfully engage memory and identity using line, form, and color. Through a methodically innovative process, the artist paints representationally onto large sheets of glass, scrapes the partially dried oil paint from the surface, and then reassembles the resulting “skins” into multi-layered compositions. 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 history energized by the material. Much of Otero’s early work was directly influenced by personal memories based on photographs and other family memorabilia combined with the gestures of painters such as Nicolas Poussin, Pablo Picasso, and Willem de Kooning. Instead of representing his life through art, he archives moments within it through a constant negotiation between lived experience and art historical references.
In recent work, large-scale tapestry-like oil paintings that hang entirely free from a stretcher bar, Otero continues to build upon his expansive use of oil skins to create paintings composed of fragments of previously discarded paintings and cut scraps accumulated in his studio over the years. These fragments—smaller, and more varied in size, shape, and palette—introduce new conceptual and aesthetic elements in his work. Whereas previous paintings were collaged from an individual skin that Otero both carved into and painted onto, these new paintings incorporate years of saved and salvaged materials, dexterously arranged on a scale akin to that of individual brush strokes. Otero’s impulse to reuse materials is linked to his long-held interest in their potential to convey history, memory, and the temporal nature of his practice. He has also begun to incorporate found material such as handmade lace, chair caning, and chandelier strands into his paintings, which act as markers of memories of Puerto Rico. The inspiration for these ambitious paintings, stitched together to create a perfect rhythm of positive and negative spaces, can be visibly linked to the canonical masterpieces from art history as well as his grandmother’s more humble, yet also masterful, crocheted lace.
Otero received his MFA in 2009 and his BFA in 2007 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY (2019); Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, NY (2017); Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2016); Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (2015); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2013); and Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, NC (2012). Select groups exhibitions and biennials featuring his work include The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL (2019); Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold: A Postcolonial Paradox, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA (2019); Inherent Structure, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2018); Surface Area, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2016); Nexo / Nexus: Latin American Connections in the Midwest, DePaul Art Museum, Chicago, IL (2016); Fusion: Art of the 21st Century, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (2014); 6th Prague Biennale (2013); El Museo Bienal The [S] Files, Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle, Queens Museum, New York, NY (2012) and El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY (2011), among others.
Otero is the recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Visual Arts. His work is in numerous public and private collections including the Berezdivin Collection, Puerto Rico; Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY; DePaul University Museum, Chicago, IL; Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, Turkey; Margulies Collection, Miami, FL; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC; UBS Art Collection, Chicago, IL; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
Artist portrait: Photo by Elisabeth Bernstein