Dressed in all black, in contrast to the radiant colors that surround him, the artist Angel Otero emanates warmth as he stands in his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, right off the high-spirited Avenue of Puerto Rico (also known as Graham Avenue). His expansive high-ceilinged work space is currently occupied by a group of sprawling mixed-media paintings — made partly from collaged cutout pieces from his earlier works — that will soon depart for his coming exhibition, “Milagros,” at Lehmann Maupin gallery in Manhattan. The artist, too, is about to set out for a journey. Known for his visceral abstract oil paintings, Otero, 38, who has lived in New York for almost a decade, will open a second studio in his first home, Puerto Rico, early this summer. “I want to see what can happen if I am physically there, working and engaging with people,” he explains. “I’ve always been a loner and introvert while making art, and I want to break this habit there, and maybe even bring people into the studio to make art together.” He’s hopeful about the revitalization of the island after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. He believes good can come out of catastrophe, and adds: “A lot of young people are bringing amazing things back to the island. I want to be a part of this moment.”
Otero left his home in Puerto Rico in 2003 to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has lived in the mainland United States ever since, but his upbringing in a large family in San Juan helped form his compelling visual language of bold colors, vibrant abstract forms and autobiographical cues, leading to solo exhibitions at institutions including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. In his new work, Otero delves into both his physical and mental inventories, reusing pieces from his discarded paintings and domestic objects he has collected from thrift stores over the years, as well as memories of Puerto Rico. Perched on a salvaged chair in his studio, he answered T’s artist questionnaire.