By Nat Taylor
West Village residents have an unexpectedly profound treat this month in Tale as Old as Time, Manhattan-based painter Alejando Otaola’s first solo show now on view in the Revelation Gallery at Saint John’s in the Village, 224 Waverly Place.
The first thing that visitors are likely to be struck by is the declaration by the artist–who has made himself available for interrogation by gallery-goers by transporting his active workshop to the middle of the gallery for the duration of the show–that his selection of works, and goal in this exhibition, is to explore his personal mission of becoming “one of the greatest artists in the world.” This may seem like a bit much, but the essence of the show is not really the mission itself but rather a frank, incisive, and self-searching meditation on what it means to be on it. While undoubtedly preoccupied with grandiosity and spectacle, the mythology that these works flesh out is less the familiar hero’s journey and more the much more universal–but no less epic–struggle of crafting one’s own narrative identity within a pre-existing discourse. Consequently, Otaola is less interested in ticking archetypal boxes than he is in exploring the mix of alignment with and rebellion against specific archetypes–not to mention the very notion of archetypes–that this necessitates.
At the core of these musings is the question of destiny, and what it can mean in the modern world to have one, follow one, or even believe in one. The contextualization of lived experience as maybe, or maybe not, mythic sets the stage for this inquiry, and it is only amplified by Otaola’s stylistic approach: despite their highly abstracted and impressionistic visual language, all of the works in this show convey clear narratives drawn directly from Otaola’s dreams and visions, which are taken, in the Jungian tradition, as portals to a shared realm of proto-experience (A Very Short Introduction to Carl Jung was visible under one of the artist’s palettes during my visit, along with a Neruda collection). For Otaola, then, the simple notion of “following your dreams” becomes a crucial and metaphysically loaded one, in which the individual–in the case of all of these deeply personal works, him–struggles to reconcile their lived particulars with the discursive universal. Much like the authors he draws on, Otaola leaves to interpretation how literally the more mystical dimensions of these ideas should be taken.
Otaola’s real mastery, though, is less in the speculations themselves and more in the clarity and directness with which he communicates them. His technique evokes texture, sound, and motion rather than form or concept, working in an anti-ontology that conjures pre-verbal memory. Sketching narratives, he eschews hazy dream logic and heavy-handed representationalism, opting instead for parables whose lessons derive from clear causal relations. Most significantly, this superimposition of recognizable narrative structures, simple enough to be accessible and straightforward enough to be timeless, onto raw sensations that are themselves familiar enough to spur nostalgia, goes a long way towards making the viewer feel the universality and resonance of the archetypes Otaola is interested in. Stop by this exhibition not only for the chance to see an exciting new artistic talent in action but because you might just rediscover a long-lost intimacy with the legendary.
Tale as Old as Time is on view until January 28th. A closing ceremony with the artist will be held in the gallery on January 25th from 6-8 pm.