“McKay Otto: Ever or Ever” at CAMIBAart

The visually rich and meditative surfaces of these mixed-media works take the viewer to a space veiled in silence

HC Arnold

Austin Chronicle

May 6, 2016

McKay Otto understands silence. He understands it in the same way you do, if you’ve ever stood on top of Mt. Bonnell and looked out over Lake Austin on a cold and foggy morning. Everything is veiled in a gauzy white silence. That same gauzy white silence is on the walls of CAMIBAart Gallery in Otto’s exhibition “Ever or Ever.” Minus the cold and damp of Mt. Bonnell, “Ever or Ever” brings us to that place of intangibility and stillness we find ourselves in when we are surrounded by an impenetrable and elusive mist.

The 14 works in this show mark a new direction for Otto, who recently hung up the regimented patterns of circles and vertical lines of his older work for a more organic image. But this doesn’t mean that his new work is random and without a planned method. Using nylon and acrylic, as well as phosphorescent paint and pieces of cork, Otto is a mixed-media artist who’s figured out a formula for creating sculptures of paintings. The fictional space of the canvas that we often see filled with pictures of things is instead home to a complex overlapping of subtly diverse strata. What might appear as plastic resin gooped over a painted background is, in fact, a careful layering of nylon stretched over corks that have been painted different colors and cut into various lengths. Hiding beneath the translucent skin of the artworks, they are constellations that create hills and valleys in the paintings’ surfaces as some press into their filmy coverings while others retreat from them.

By manipulating the surface of the work, Otto pushes the nylon, the three-dimensionality of his artwork, and time into the foreground. These pieces demand your patience. The longer you spend quietly exploring their misty surfaces, the more you see – and the further your mind unwinds. You’ll notice how the different drips of paint vary from surface to surface or how the different patterns of monochrome, candy colors, and cork repeat with slight variations from artwork to artwork. Absent of any single focal point to be found in their radial and diffuse expansions, their implied centers are nowhere and everywhere.

The artwork in “Ever or Ever” may feel coolly detached from its context. It’s true that they are primarily formal exercises in the things of “fine art” – explorations in color theory and surface design. And while we can appreciate them on this alone, we would neglect to realize the deeper conversation they are having with the city. Right now, across the street from CAMIBAart is a construction crew hard at work putting up what I assume is another set of condos and high-end boutiques. Austin’s growth is rapid and everywhere. Otto’s work gives us a necessary moment of pause where we can collect our breath from the hustle and bustle outside and let our minds wander over their visually rich and meditative surfaces.