Foreword to "Form and Process" Exhibition Catalogue by
Marc Steene, Director Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
After visiting Piers Ottey at his studio I was left pondering the importance of process and ritual in art and mechanics and the alchemy of creativity. There is something that happens between the idea and the finished piece, the undefinable hand of chance that can make a picture either sing or fail.
Ottey deliberately charts and reveals the process and thinking that goes into each of his paintings, detailing each colour as it is painted as a margin to his work. He willingly reveals the inner symmetries and relationships he has discovered whilst he creates the architecture for his paintings; two crossing diagonals may mark the centre of painting or lead the eye to a particular colour or form. There is a knowledge of tradition and the classical in his compositions, he cites Coldstream and Uglow as influences and often uses the golden section and other mechanics to hold a painting together. When questioned Ottey explains that he finds compositions simple but the process complex, though this might be because the compositions come easily to him and that the process is a longer and harder journey.
London, Sussex, landscapes, people, landmarks and his own life are the inspiration for most subjects. The work is affirmative, he shuns the dark and morose, preferring to add light and humour to a world too full of the former. At our meeting he told me in great detail of once being offered the opportunity of painting a black horse, on which sat a woman, the owner, dressed in black. After numerous sittings and drawings Ottey arrived at a final image that shows the horse painted brown, its head and legs multi-layered, as if parts of it are in continuous movement. 'It was too morose and the horse kept moving' he explained, so he decided to paint the horse brown, much to the chagrin of the horse’s owner. Luckily the painting was not a commission, something he steers well away from. 'I only paint what I love,' he says, explaining how the only two commissions he has painted made him realise that people tend to commission the painting and not the artist.
Alongside the paintings in this exhibition Ottey will display two of his motorbikes, both Brough Superiors, one; a vintage, and the other; an exact replica that he has carefully and lovingly assembled. This is a deliberate statement about the power of process and the beauty of form. Ottey describes how a motorbike is a thing of beauty, as beautiful as any work of art. This is spoken by someone who knows not only the motorcycle’s aesthetic qualities, but how to strip it down to its constituent parts and rebuild it, yet still retain that sense of passion and love. Riding motorcycles is a passion I share with Ottey. We reflected on how it is sometimes like drawing a picture, when you are at one with the machine, travelling through space at speed, working beyond the conscious to the intuitive, drawing the most beautiful lines on the road, as fine as any draughtsman.
Ottey is a man of many talents, he loves architecture and at an earlier point in his life he worked as a builder. He built the studio we stood in and has recently created a new house on the site to live in. He has both rebuilt and replicated vintage motorcycles, is an inspiring teacher and paints wonderfully positive paintings. He comes from a family of artists, and by the entrance to his studios hangs an exquisite drawing; a copy of the classical sculpture of the Laocoon, drawn by a distant relative.
“Process IS art” I remember one art teacher telling me; and no painting is an end in itself, merely a step on a journey of self-understanding and learning. Though Ottey stresses the importance of form and the object, only using the best materials and encouraging viewers to stroke his paintings, he understands this important lesson. It is only in the process that the magic happens.
Piers Ottey is something of a polymath, his first London solo show titled 'Form and Process' wears its’ message loud and proud.
A Piers Ottey seascape featured in The English Home Magazine July 2014:
"Celebrating the essence of English Style"