Once Upon an Otto
A book of photographs of artist Frank Otto’s paintings sits invitingly on a table at the same chic Santa Monica hotel that was home to his acclaimed multi-media project, TRIP. Described by the artist as a film-music-art project, TRIP involved 33 directors, 14 musicians, and scores of technicians during its Los Angeles run late last year,
Otto’s art, like TRIP, is unique. The photos in his book offer a glimpse of his 260-square-meter The Little Mermaid painted on the floor of an abandoned factory. Comprised of a collage of images, each pictorial component of Mermaid retells the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s likewise-titled The Little Mermaid. Innovative in conception, the project was composed in front of running cameras while music simultaneously played backwards. The paintings were then run through a digital restoration process. Most of the pictures feature shades of vibrant blue and turquoise expanses of ocean or sketches of the beautiful mermaid whose face appears without detail, framed by long locks of yellow hair.
Inspired by the tale of the mermaid’s transformation, Otto calls his work “a trans- formation, a stop on a trip to the world of the new media.” Separated from the Andersen fairy tale by hundreds of years, Otto says he was inspired by the story’s subtle meanings about relationships and life. “Men and women…relationships…are doomed to failure. A woman typically gives her heart to one man, but when she shuns a man—that is when he finds her most desirable,” Otto explains.
Otto’s education in art restoration at the world-famous Museum of Art and Trade in Hamburg was followed by studies in fine art. He studied under Harald Duwe, a great master of photographic realism. From Duwe, he learned precision of color and tone, but from observations of human nature, he learned to express more than photographic truth.
“I am able to see through people—to their inner essence—and what I see is not so beautiful,” says Otto, sitting comfortably in the lounge of the hotel, his fash- ionably scrubby denim jacket playing off his slate-blue eyes.
Hence, what is striking about his little mermaid is the sometimes grotesque, anguished expression on her face.
At once a rebel, iconoclast, and truth-seeker, Otto’s work in Little Mermaid is a revolt against the formulaic painting exercises he was given in school.
Yet his rebellious artistic nature has not spurned his freewheeling generosity. He recently gave money to budding artists-to-be in South Central Los Angeles.