Artist Interviews 2022
By Johnny Otto
What is narrative painting, and are you also a writer of stories?
I'm a visual storyteller. My characters emote their desires, fear, and passion through expression and gesture. The imagery always comes first and is the road map for my written stories.
Fairy Tales, even the nice ones, can haunt me for years and years. What is it about them that is so captivating, and why are you drawn to painting in this style?
Fairy Tales take the darkest aspects of humanity and define them. The players in these stories embody the beautiful, horrible, kind, and terrible. The drama of these characters' predicaments viscerally touches us; whether we imagine we are them or have encountered them personally strikes a deep cord that always stays with us. Although these scenes play out all around us in contemporary life, they are so veiled in the familiar that we barely recognize them.
You have formal training at Pratt Institute in New York and The École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Can you tell us about how these two different experiences helped to form your work?
The relationship between professors and students felt more formal in the Beaux Arts in Paris. Regarding social structure, it was understood that they were authorities in their area of expertise, and they were there to educate you in whatever tradition they were working in, and that was that.
At Pratt in New York, it was more about finding out what you were interested in, figuring out how to do it, and the teachers were there to support you.
I think neither system is better than the other, just different; it depends on who you are. Sometimes, at 18 or 19 years old, students haven't decided where they want to focus their vision; for some, the freedom to explore is great, and others get lost in the drift. On the other hand, the Beaux-Arts, a system of learning that expects you to be educated in the arts in a traditional, classical way by taking classes like anatomy and making copies after old masters. You could either learn some excellent skills or get furious that this format wasn't getting you to the things that mattered most. That frustration can spurn the artist on to figure out what does matter to them.
You spent a lot of time in both Europe and America. How is the European approach to painting different from the contemporary American approach?
More pointedly, something that stands out in my mind about creating scenery in particular, the period pieces for film in England as opposed to The U.S., is the richness of sheer filth on buildings, streets, people, clothes, and props.
The perception of how things were hundreds of years ago is sanitized for the American public. It'sIt's almost a shinier, Disney version of historical settings. To create the proper patinas and texture on things with paint is a real art. When done well, the illusion works, and viewers don't consider its painted effects.
I suppose that's carried over into my heavy work with layers and grit. Many of the techniques I learned for painting in a film with things like crushed walnut shells and sand to give a surface more dimension I use in my artwork to this day.
Are you showing anywhere now or any shows coming up that we should know about? What'sWhat's on the horizon?
I have a solo show, "Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden - Life is full of pricks," that opened on Aug 20 and will be up until Sept 16 at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. Then, in November, my work will be in a group show at Brassworks Gallery titled "The Fringe" with a fantastic group of artists.
Are NFTs a thing?
Artist colleagues I respect immensely have dove into the NFT space and done well; it hasn't called me personally. So it's a contradiction what I'm going to say next; while I am grateful for the digital age and the way I can reach more people with my work through social media, I am a sucker for art you can hold. Nothing is like being in front of a physical piece of work made by an artist.
You've been a scenic artist for theatre and or live concerts, how was that experience?
I am grateful to have learned so much about visual storytelling from some incredible masters—everything from technique to how an audience reads pictorially to the psychological and emotional power of color.
On the other hand, large-scale works are physically very demanding, and there is never enough time. So it teaches you how to make every brush stroke count and improvise.
Any living artists that you'd like to collaborate with?
I've also published a couple of books with my artwork and writing; Fairy Tale Remnants, Indigo Raven Publishing 2019, and Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden- Life is full of pricks, Indigo Raven Publishing 2021) with my artwork and writing. Still, I would love to work with a writer who hadn't worked in the graphic novel style but used my visuals to create a story. Someone like Neil Gaiman would be fantastic.
I love the socio-political commentary of the artist Plastic Jesus and would love to work with him in some way.