Born and raised in San Jose, California Erik Otto pursued an education at San Jose State University where he graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005. After graduation, he spent his summer exploring the islands of Hawaii. After his return, he packed his bags and headed north for San Francisco where he currently resides pursuing a career in fine arts.
Fleeting moments of change and discovery are depicted and reinvented continually utilizing a variety of materials spanning from traditional paintings to mixed-media sculptures and installations. With over 10 years of experience, Otto has held exhibitions in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Mexico City, and Vancouver.
On top of producing commission work for notable clients and collectors, Otto was selected for both the SF Recology Artist-in-Residence Program, VSCO Artist Initiative Grant and had work featured in the most recent YBCA Bay Area Now. As well, Otto completed his largest painting commission to date for Grand Hyatt San Francisco’s permanent collection.
Erik will be opening his doors for anyone interested in stopping by to check out his new and improved studio this weekend August 19-20. Through the good folks over at Silence Is Accurate we were given the opportunity to ask Erik some questions, check out the interview below.
What was your idea of art as a kid and who introduced you to it?
Creativity has always been something I was naturally drawn to. Making art came out of exploration and enjoyment with no guidance other than pursuing my own curiosity. As I grew older, this felt important to me, so I carried on and eventually developed a lifestyle that could allow me to continue to create. No one person introduced it to me, I never enrolled in any art schools, and I don’t come from an artistic blood line.
What piece of art are you most proud of?
I was selected to produce a commission painting for the permanent collection for the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. The overall project was a huge one for both the family collectors and each of the artists chosen and it resulted in my largest commissioned painting to date. Not only was it large, I had an amazing time painting it and one day I will get to go back and show my kids what their dad did when he was their age.
Where do you see your work expanding to?
My work has been slowly becoming more conceptual, minimal and abstract. I hope to continue to find my voice within this new direction while not being afraid to experiment with new mediums to develop work I am truly proud of. The goal is to make work that evokes emotion and stimulates others to question the meaning of their own existence — you know, typical artsy stuff.
Due to being born practically blind in both eyes, I have taken an interest in the human eye and have recently began to pursue it as the conceptual backbone to all the work I have been making lately. Why it took me this long to do so is beyond me, but my research in vision has become such an inspirational resource, and I am excited to see how it will influence my work.
What motivates you to keep creating?
An innate desire to make better work than the last meanwhile creating a larger connection to the world around me. Something I write in my notebook a lot when I feel I have lost the way…”Focus on the matters of your heart and open the hearts of many”. That alone feeds my soul to keep going.
What brings you back to your beginning?
The above statement combined with having an endless list of things to do and never enough time or money to do it with is always a humbling experience that seems to keep me grounded. I’m pretty good at questioning everything and reminding myself why I do what I do. It’s not the “how” for me, but the “why” that has become so important.
When a person is viewing your art, what is it that you want them to takeaway?
What music do you listen to when creating?
I grew up break dancing and playing the drums since high school so anything with a good beat gets me going, but for obvious reasons house music can trigger me into a hyper focus which I find very beneficial.
Describe your process of creating?
More and more, I find that most of the work goes into the preliminary phases. I write and sketch a lot then narrow down the sketches to build on the stronger ones. If the end result will be something three-dimensional, I will often make a computer rendering to practice making it before I purchase materials. If it’s a painting, I throw some paint around and jump right in. I typically work on multiple projects at once and bulk up tasks as if I am my own assembly line. My other motto: I work until things get done.
How has your past experiences affected your current state?
Each experience informs the next. When I was tired of playing the victim role as we all often do, I began to look at all the challenges in my life as opportunities for growth. Since having my fair share of internal and external battles this mindset has helped me scale all the walls in life to get to where I’m at. Now, ever time I hit a wall that appears impossible to get around, I remind myself of what I have gone through so far to get where I am, and the fire kicks in to never call it quits. I have only become more stronger and more dedicated. And the more I fail, the more I learn to make it work the next time. Another motto: Always be ready.
If you could live in any place, where would it be and why?
Currently, I am finally getting the plans in order to expand my life to NYC, but down the line, I have always dreamed of having a quiet place to focus in the more rural areas of Mexico. After multiple trips to Mexico for over 15 years and living in Mexico City off and on for 3 years, I fell in love with the Mexican culture and lifestyle. The weather is great down there, but nothing beats how nice the people are.
What artists inspire you to keep creating?
Frank Stella, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Bridget Riley are a few artists who whole-heartedly admire, while Barry McGee, Chris Duncan, Ryan Wallace are a few younger masters of their craft that I always look forward to see what they do next.
Explain your personal description of Silence is Accurate?
A platform for artists and enthusiasts alike to find meaningful connection through creativity and mindfulness.
What message do you send through your art?
Only the positive ones.
What is the most memorable experience up to this point in your career?
I’m fortunate to say I have had quite a few, and usually the best moments follow a point where I took a huge risk with my art and life. Back in 2012, I was coming back from a family vacation in Tulum and decided to extend my layover flight through Mexico City from 2 hours to 2 weeks. I had no real need to go straight home and had a bad case of wanderlust. Wanting to discover something new, I found myself smack dab in one of the largest cities in the world. First few days were spent getting terribly lost and barely finding my way back to the hostel. It was exhausting and I started to grow frustrated of how little Spanish I actually knew. However, on day four, I miraculously bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. Turns out after we lost touch he moved back to Mexico and he was now living in Mexico City — 4 blocks from where I was staying! Needless to say, the trip took on a much higher gear after we reunited and I met countless wonderful people through him. By the end of that short trip, I had worked out an entire plan to come back in a few months to live and work for 6 months and turn it into a show.
Easier said than done, but I somehow still pulled it off. Shortly after my return I gained full access to an abandoned building that I transformed into a working studio and made a series of artwork inspired by the experience of being there. I took full advantage of the incredible opportunity and it was a life changer for sure.
THANK YOU ERIK FOR YOUR TIME ANSWERING OUR QUESTIONS. VISIT ERIK OTTO'S SITE TO SEE MORE