Produced for Angel Otero's 2015 exhibition with Kavi Gupta, Lago, this series of red cadmium pieces is one of Otero's most elusive but personal bodies of work to date. Otero's process is inspired by photography, contemplating a grain of paint pigment like a grain of silver nitrate in photography, an image transferring back and forth between positive and negative. Taking old family photos, Otero would first create a line drawing on paper using silicone caulk that loosely recreates the image of the photo. Otero would then dust the whole drawing with copious amounts of red pigment, and then stamp an entire raw canvas down onto the caulk-and-loose-pigment drawing. Pressure from the canvas forces the pigment to stain the raw fabric, and the pigment also melds with the silicone as a binder to create a roughshod paint, the whole process slightly distorting the image. Peeling away the paper further warps the image, leaving a hazy final surface only vaguely referential back to the original photograph. Otero has commented that this decay is purposeful; he sees the image degradation to be like the fading of memory, images becoming only loose impressions in the mind.
The choice of red is twofold. First as an art historical reference, Otero chose cadmium red for its intense purity. Cadmium is traditionally thought to be so intense that it overwhelms other colors, and needs to be cut with other pigments. Using raw cadmium makes the paintings into an assault on your vision, each surface radiating with an intense redness that feels almost unnatural. Cadmium mining has also proven environmentally hazardous, so despite its historic importance in art, real cadmium is being phased out of use in favor of synthetic alternatives. The second choice also inspired the title of their debut show, Lago; Otero recalls watching the Clint Eastwood film High Plains Drifter, vague childhood memories of a desert town painted in vibrant reds, a town called Lago.