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Born in London, Piers trained at Chelsea School of Art in the 1970's. He has been painting ever since. He moved to West Sussex in 1980 and set up The Mill Studio in 1994. He is a trustee of the National Open Art Competition.
Painting mostly in oils, his subject matter has often been influenced by his travels to Greece, Spain, France and Denmark but he always returns to painting from the human form. He paints landscapes, objects as well as semi-abstract forms.
His work has been exhibited in London, the provinces and abroad and can be found in private and corporate as well as public collections around the world.
Piers' work is very personal. There is a mischievous quality in most of his paintings, sometimes subversive - as in Horse race in the dark or in The serene and peaceful type 42 Destroyer. Chairs may only have three legs, a Model only one eye and then there is the issue of the 'code' of colors often seen around the edge of his canvasses. These form a diary; a record of all the colors used to make the image and in the order they were made and used.
For Piers, the edges of the picture are important, so is the geometry between the edge and the center. The square is his most common format; primary red and blue form his initial drawing. ' Surface quality should be special' he says and all viewers should feel free to feel the surface of the work.
In June 2007 Piers won the University of Bath painting prize, and has had work acquired by both Worthing and Portsmouth Museums.
Artists with a sense of humour are agile, deft and defy categorisation, which is wonderfully refreshing when the work is as challenging as is Piers Ottey’s. He revels in his power to puzzle the viewer, both visually in the paintings and verbally in some of his titles. He has a propensity to leave out important features in his landscapes whilst still titling them as if they were there, in other words the artist plays at being a conjuror.
As examples of this statement let me refer to the two paintings Landing at Hiorne Tower and Landed at Hiorne Tower, the first of which was a commissioned work. Ottey does not paint literal landscapes, and in the first, small painting his innate sense of geometry, which is a feature in all his paintings, caused him to slice up the picture space and tilt the horizon. Surface is of crucial importance to him, and the arbitrary patterning, rather like aqueous creatures swimming in an ocean of blue, creates a conflict between surface and depth, teasing the eye with a spatial conundrum. Then, when we come to the second, larger painting our own equilibrium is restored by the natural position of the horizon, but we may find ourselves even more confused by the awkward angles and profusion of surface marks. And indeed, bearing in mind the title in both paintings, where is Hiorne Tower? Vanished as if it had never been.
Continuing in this vein the viewer may be taken aback by the title ‘Blue Rape Field over Bignor Hill’. Everyone knows that rape is a vivid yellow, so what has happened? He has transformed the foreground by painting over the yellow with a deep blue which seemed right to him in the interests of picture-making, thus radically subverting expectations. The wide horizon and deep recession over patterned fields to the misty blue Downs have an affinity with Cezanne’s obsessive paintings of the Mont St. Victoire, a painter whom Ottey reveres. Furthermore, the long rectangular format is a reminder of Ottey’s own paintings of the recumbent figure, which in ‘Arun Valley’ was actually painted over an earlier nude. For me this fact offers an added insight into the linearity of the folded hills which may be imagined as the curves and recesses of the human figure.
A perfect example of the square format with which Ottey is most comfortable is to be found in The Field, the Road and the River. The picture space is sliced up as before and the busy patterns again draw the eye to the surface, but it is unable to rest, since each of the features in the title clamour for equal attention. The process whereby the painting came into being is explained in the little squares of paint which surround the canvas on three sides, starting at the bottom left with a patch of red and proceeding through the greens and blues to right and left. It is important to Ottey that he does not mix up a palette-full of paint which will last him throughout the process, but only a small amount of each color at a time, so that he has constantly to mix it up afresh, thus not only achieving variety in the colors but also maintaining the emotional excitement to carry it through.
The small paintings of Bosham are done on the spot in a day, unlike the
considered process of the the paintings discussed above, which are created in the studio over a period, sometimes with the aid of photographs. The Bosham paintings are gem-like in their clarity, and the colour notations reach for, in Ottey’s phrase, “a divine harmony”. In this context I cannot help thinking of the colour notations of Seurat, who had an exquisitely sensitive eye for colour harmonies, possibly exceeded only by the painter he admired above all others, Piero della Francesca.
Ottey’s mountain paintings are a complete contrast in matter if not in manner. The soft lushness of the Arun Valley is replaced with the harshness of the spiky mountain tops and the misty light of an English summer gives way to a diamond-like brilliance. Yet the touch is the same, the mark-making is recognisable, and the geometrical divisions are maintained within the square format. It seems to me that in the Swiss paintings there is little place for humour and games-playing. Perhaps mountains are too formidable, too awe-inspiring, for the artist to dare subversion. Yet the surface is as various as ever, the edges as edgy and the excitement is maintained. The body of the recent work on view, seemingly so sharply divided, may be seen as a duet for two voices, forming one harmonious whole.
Mary Rose Beaumont August 2008
Information of James Stewart, United Kingdom