Talent shines brightly in artist's darkness Art review: Colors, meanings and motion emerge in the new works of painter Greg Otto.

April 22, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

The last time I saw a group of Greg Otto's paintings, about two years ago, he was doing brightly colored cityscapes that for the most part were unremarkable. The current exhibit of his more recent works at Galerie Francoise shows a much more interesting artist who, apparently, has partly returned to his roots in abstraction.

A folder of his press clippings going back two decades reveals that in the 1970s Otto created abstract drawings with thousands of tiny lines drawn on the paper with great care. The one drawing in this show, "Tower with Color," is representational -- as are all the pictures here -- but both the tower and the surrounding "sky" are covered with tiny lines that create an abstractly patterned surface full of tension and interest.

In a variation on this, Otto has filled the background of the painting "Baltimore Towers" with thousands of tiny, curved brush strokes. They enliven the surface and have the effect of making the two towers, outlined in white, appear to to be projecting forward into the viewer's space.

The best of Otto's works here, however, are his "black" paintings. These pictures of buildings are not really black but are executed in such dark colors that they look at first like different shades of black -- except for a tiny wedge of color someplace, usually toward the top. The wedge looks as if someone has thrown a bright light on one small segment of one of the buildings.

These paintings are rewarding on several levels. As studies in color, they make themselves known gradually. Like a person stepping into a darkened room where the eyes have to adjust to the light, the viewer at first sees nothing but black in the dark areas of these works, but gradually more and more colors appear -- deep, somber, but distinct. In "Night Color," one begins to see blues, reds, browns, grays and purples.

The layered facades of the buildings can turn into abstract geometric compositions, in which space becomes ambiguous and confusing. Planes may be seen as projecting or receding.

The shafts of color that appear to be high above street level lend these works an ominous, menacing quality. It is as if we are inhabiting a city underground, where we never see the light except as a beacon we cannot reach.

There's a psychological element to these paintings as well, though not a happy one. They suggest lives of quiet desperation punctuated by fleeting moments of joy that make the rest all the darker by comparison.

That may be reading too much into these paintings, however. They work well enough in visual terms, so one needn't require more of them; and they suggest that, after being an abstract artist and then a representational one, Otto now blends the two strains in a way that's advantageous to his art.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

Art review

What: Greg Otto: New Paintings

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through May 1

Call: (410) 337-2787

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