Monday, February 18, 2008

I am a DJ I am What I Play

Saturday I went by Whitespace to hear John Otte's artist talk for his show "Seen/Unseen Selected Works 1982-2007"

As said in the previous post on the show opening, Otte's work is so layered in historical references of art and music that an explanation from Otte gives the work another dimension and intention that could have otherwise been misinterpreted as abstract expressionistic in purpose. Take for example "Untitled (Luncheon on the Grass)"- 1990 above.

The silkscreen of two figures from Edouard Manet's "Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe" (The Luncheon in the Grass) 1863. The outline of the figures is layered repeatedly by Otte, inspired by Jazz singer Curtis Stiger's "Its Gonna Rain" on a "two tape loop". (My understanding of this reference comes to an abrupt halt here).

This process is representative of how Otte creates art. Otte said his work deals with Photography and Abstraction, which he sees as "two sides of the same coin." Photography being the photographic process, whether working from a source image or duplicating images by xerox, silkscreening, digital printing, etc, and the abstraction being his own markings.

For example the latex and spray paint on paper above, "Untitled, Crab(P), 2006" resulted from photographs Otte took of a wall in New Orleans over a seven year period. Otte was interested in the way the graffiti emerged and then faded back into the texture of the aged wall over time.

John Otte with "Disco/Metal/Punk/Funk (for Angus Young) 1992-2000 and "Untitled (According to John) 1992-2000

In the early 90's Otte had the job of doing the lettering for the Gagosian Gallery in NYC. He would use the left over letters in his work, responding to the text and the names of artists that he admired and was influenced by; Pollock, Barnett, etc,

In response to Jasper John's "According to What ?" series, Otte answered it with "According to John" (detail above) Otte referred to these works as a "compounding of images" and influenced by the Process Art of the 60's.

The silkscreen and ink above, "Untitled (Cy/Tuttle remix"- 2006 is another good example of Otte building off of the foundation of found images and compounding these. Inspired by the work of Cy Twombly and Richard Tuttle, Otte silkscreened reproductions of their work and painted over them with ink. It raises the interesting question of intent and authenticity. Otte is quick to state that he is "blatantly enhancing" someone else art, downplaying it as a "rip off" though it is certainly not.

Otte has been influenced by the artist he references, but his work is not a reinterpretation or a copy - it is a reaction, a work building from the past. Otte has been a DJ for many years and he raised the interesting question of what are DJs doing when mixing? Are they giving to the listener a new way to "experience" the music (through a styled context)? DJs do not emulate the music but instead serve more as a "filter." In much the same way, Otte uses historical art images, treating these images as "readymades, bringing out something new by repeating them." Just as Duchamp said "Take an object - have a new thought for that object."

The idea of applying this notion to images seems very poignant at this point in time. Both because of the digital age we live in and also the long history of modern art pressing down on us. The idea that everything has been done and a hyper-awareness of how all contemporary work is simply a reaction to past artists, as if all original thoughts have been consumed and we are now meddling with the leftovers, makes it a logical next step that artist would begin using the overabundance of images of past art as their material. Even in music, this reaction is apparent in the movement of "mash ups", where DJs such as the one and only and much loved (by me) Girl Talk, take the music of others and mash it together, often sampling up to one hundred songs in less than minute, creating something altogether new and more thrilling than the originals.

During the talk Jerry Cullum summed it up best by saying that Otte's work was an evolution of appropriationism from the 80's and the mash up movement of now. Nice one Jerry.

Jerry Cullum and Jennifer with a series of Otte's "Naumanesque" drawings from 1982 in the background. Inspired by Bruce Nauman's "Zip" drawings, a study of architecture and Atlanta's bridges, these drawings were a starting off point for Otte who found it increasingly important to leave the marks of the process on the page (such as smudges, charcoal dust, and pencil lines). He wanted the "paintings and drawings to bear the markings of their making."

These drawings reminded me of Scott Ingram's show "Building Futures" at Solomon Projects in December 2007. (previous posts here & here) Ingram raised the idea of defining a drawing as mark making, regardless of whether the mark is made with a pencil or inset aluminum bars. Ingram also referenced Nauman's "Zip" drawings with a sculpture in his show but it was done with a very polished finished that all but eliminated the artist's hand. While Otte argues against the idea of using an eraser, Ingram relies heavily on it to get the clean geometry of Modern Architecture. Both artist respond to architecture in their work using modern icons of art and architecture as both starting point for their work and often as the starring role in the artwork itself.

The influence of architecture, instilled partially from Otte's time spent renovating old houses, spurred "Untitled (I Walk on Gilded Splinters - Je suis un grand Zombie remix)" - 2006. Otte described the piece as "minimum dimensional architecture around a piece of funk art." The funk art being a reproduction of a Ellsworth Kelly drawings from the 50's (Kelly is another big influence on Otte) placed within a frame with Georgia red clay and a gilded splinter (brought back from New Orleans and referencing architecture/ destruction/ construction/etc). The frame around the "funk art" is left open-ended and serves as "housing for the art." Otte said it "serves as a kind of reliquary." When asked about the relationship between the art and frame, Otte saw them as of equal importance in defining the art object, the frame therefore not serving as a typical, easily replaceable frame, but as a vital element to the "funk art."

Continuing this exploration of architectural ideas was a wall in the gallery which Otte painted in the same style that he is currently applying to an entire house.

Holy shit I love it. From the two great minds that redesigned Whitespace, architects Brian Bell and David Yocum designed this beauty currently going up on Corley Street (behind Highland Bakery on Highland).

Otte was commissioned to paint the exterior walls of the house, layering latex house paints along with who knows what else. The soft, warm charcoal black of the house has a very rich finish that Otte envisions will continue to become more layered as time and weather get involved.

The house is being built in the Old Fourth Ward area of Atlanta, an area that was almost completely burned down in a great fire one day in 1917. The fire spread, hoping from one wood-shingle roof to the next, from Dekalb Avenue to Ponce De Leon before it was finally stopped by blowing up a cluster of mansions on Ponce. Otte wanted to respond to the history and devastation of this area through this painting (which he thinks of as a "black Mondrian") but made sure to clarify that is was not a "simulation" but a response.

I got the opportunity to have a little tour through the house and was able to confirm that it is as amazing inside as out. Natural light pours in from every direction, including skylights, and the stairs are like floating planks of wood drifting towards a large window. Awesome. This reminds me, I need to go pick up a lottery ticket... pronto.

So go see "Seen/Unseen" it's up at Whitespace until February 23rd 2008.

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