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Beneath the Darkness

Johnny Otto
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“Heavy, Dark soul-crushing black paint covers splashes of hopeful colors in a reflection of the dark storm that looms over America.

Johnny Otto, known for his Neo-expressionistic work, takes a bold new direction, or at least a detour, as he explores issues of the hate that has swept through his country. These abstract works do not attempt to be pretty or graceful but, rather, they aim for turbulent and chaotic, the Black paint like death masking whatever life struggles under it…life the begs to be free.

Although comparison can be made for Rothko’s Black/Grey paintings (circa 1968-69) and other minimalists such as Frank Stella, and even Gerard Richter’s abstract-minimalist work, Otto’s technique for exposing and covering what lies beneath the thick, tar-like paint, is uniquely him. According to the Artist, layers and layers of color are first applied to the canvas, creating a texture which he then applies the black paint to. This sits for days and sometimes months until more color is added on top of the black and then more black on top of the colors. These steps repeated for weeks and weeks until ‘the battle for supremacy is either won or lost by hope and light.’ “

Maybe the whole point of Otto’s work is to say that the battle between the darker forces and the lighter forces is never really over. It is the Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin and yang, a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be interconnected, and synergetic in the natural world. It is man’s concept that good shall win over evil, but does that idea exist outside of man’s experience? That question is what makes these new paintings so important, especially now, when, as a world that is in turmoil, we need to ask some very difficult questions about what it means to be human.”

– Charlie Aniston

Johnny Otto is self-taught contemporary artist based in Los Angeles. He was born in Bay Village, Ohio in 1966, the grandson of Czech and German immigrants. Often compared to Basquiat, Haring and Picasso, Otto’s work is actually influenced by a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, which he visited as a child and where he was exposed to their vast collection of African Art.

Otto’s work spans more than 35 years and includes shows with David Hockney (Angel Art Fundraiser Auction), 01 Gallery, Headquarters, Jeff Hamilton’s Street Art Fair, Radiant Space, Ministry Gallery, Art Squat, Novian-Miller Space, and many others. His work is collected around the world by Art Collectors, Fellow Artists, Designers, from Los Angeles to Japan, Germany and France.

Johnny Otto @ Instagram Johnny Otto official


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