Navigating The Mentholated Roads: Michael Ottersen at SEASON
There is something deceivingly friendly about Michael Ottersen’s paintings. The Seattle artist’s dense canvases pop with solid, inviting hues. As pointed out by Robert Yoder, artist and owner of SEASON, where Ottersen’s show The (Mentholated) Roads Around Naples is on view, most of the canvas-spanning forms can be contorted into geometric faces. But then, there are the titles, which counter the initial straightforwardness with an esoteric sense of humor that reads as equal parts inside joke and non sequitur wordplays—Stinky Pinky/Wigwamery and Mary Krishna stand out among the more confounding. This tug of war happens within each of the works, sucking you in at the first encounter and remaining stuck in your head long after. – Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor
Michael Ottersen, Mary Krishna, 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 64 x 48 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
Michael Ottersen, Stinky Pinky/Wigwamery, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
Beyond the palette and shapes, the paintings and ink drawings comprising The (Mentholated) Roads Around Naples refuse to portray easy relationships amongst themselves. Mary Krishna and Bangs veer towards human forms, dominated by a head-like shape that could double as a tower of rock in a Dr. Seuss landscape. Meanwhile, The Sailor, The Carpet, The Drapes visually evokes little about the slang question it references, its imagery instead reduced to elongated, paned structures that argue against even the literal elements of its title. Ugly Boys and Girls (A) and Ugly Boys and Girls (B) share a title and crystalline rims around their forms, but the ridges riding over the surface of (B) seem to have a more obvious conversation with Carpeted Stairs, in spite of (or because of) the latter’s absence of any form resembling a stair.
Michael Ottersen, The Sailor, The Carpet, The Drapes, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
Michael Ottersen, Ugly Boys and Girls (B), 2011, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
Buried among the smallest of details, however, is one distinct consistency. Flashing along the borders of the figures like a reflection catching the light, streaks of paint and gesso beneath the top layer make fleeting appearances throughout the series. Revealing a twisted web of connections that mirrors the relationships existing across and within works, these glimpses of their foundations hint just enough at a semblance of coherency that attempts at logical understanding of The (Mentholated) Roads Around Naples may not be entirely futile. The artist’s five-line statement about his work as a whole ends by promising “simple extravagance that a potato flower would understand.” While we may not all be able to reach that lofty aspiration of knowing Ottersen’s paintings, we at least can aim to get in on some of the jokes along the way.
Michael Ottersen, Bangs, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
Michael Ottersen, Under Neptune, 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 25 x 18 in. Image courtesy of SEASON.
The (Mentholated) Roads Around Naples is on view at SEASON in Seattle, WA through September 29, 2013. Michael Ottersen lives and works in Seattle, WA. He received his BFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. His work has recently been shown at Gallery 4Culture in Seattle, WA; Gallery onetwentyeight in New York, NY; and Feature, Inc. in New York, NY.
Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle.