It was a ‘stop over’ on the way back from New Zealand to the UK in which Piers Ottey followed in the footsteps of such West Coast painters as Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, Ed Ruscha and other Bay Area artists.
Ottey wanted to explore the area that produced a lot of the work that he likes by artists that he respects. So he visited places like SFMOMA as well as Crown Print Press, where a lot of the influential West Coast artists & others produced editions.
Artists are drawn to the West Coast, in a similar way that they are to Cornwall, because of the light, amazing colours and culture (“happiness” as Piers Ottey calls it).
In the case of Yosemite and Sierra Nevada, Ottey wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ansell Adams.
“When photographer Ansel Adams looked through his camera lens, he saw more than Yosemite's rocks, trees, and rivers. He saw art. Hues of wildness surfaced in this great American photographer's stunning black-and-white prints. And for most of his life, Yosemite National Park was Adams' chief source of inspiration.“ [from the Yosemite National Park Service Website]
Any trip to the West Coast for Piers would not be complete without a visit to Monterey, Cannery Row and Pebble Beach.
Cannery Row is of course the novel written by John Steinbeck. Published in 1945, it is set in Monterey during the Great Depression on a street lined with sardine canneries. The actual location Steinbeck was writing about, Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, was later renamed "Cannery Row" in honor of the book. The literary connection continues with Jack Kerouac and his iconic, Beat, road trip book ’On the Road’ in the background and on Pier’s mind during this journey.
Finally, Pebble Beach, the centre in the US for vintage vehicles represents Piers Ottey’s other passion. Piers restores vintage motorcycles and cars, often building them up from scrap. So a visit to Pebble Beach, on the way to Carmel, around the peninsula from Monterey was a must. The highlight each year in August is the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, which started as an ‘add-on’ to the Pebble Beach road races in 1950, but now has grown to become the ”worlds premier celebration of the automobile”.
Born in London, Piers Ottey trained at Chelsea School of Art in the 1970’s and has been painting professionally ever since. He moved to West Sussex in 1980 and set up the Mill Studio Art School in 1994.
Painting mostly in oils, his subject matter has often been influenced by his travels (often to the Alps and Europe) but he always returns to painting the human form, London and local Sussex landscapes. Although contemporary, there is a knowledge of tradition and the classical in his compositions, Piers Ottey cites Coldstream and Uglow as influences and sometimes uses the golden section as well as other geometry to hold a painting together.
A further influence is Patrick Symons, who brought a rigorous approach to his paintings. Like Symons, Ottey would make numerous preliminary drawings and continually corrected his compositions (changes which can often be seen in the finished work); and like Symons, Ottey’s work Can be read on many levels. They both pay close attention to geometry of paintings but also to the specific content.
Piers Ottey says “I find compositions simple, but the process of painting complex”; Deciding what to paint comes easily to him, the process is a longer and harder journey.
Recording places in a state of change or with interesting histories are a favourite theme for Piers Ottey: He has painted the Shard (See ‘Bermondsey & Southwark’ 2011) in London over twelve times, as it was being built from the ground up, once the construction was complete and so would no longer change, his interest waned. The same is true of his Battersea Power Station paintings; these are not nostalgic for a London past, nor are they sentimental, they are current, ‘London in flux’, and record the now.
Marc Steene, then director of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, wrote in 2013 “Ottey deliberately charts and reveals the process and thinking that goes into each of his paintings, detailing each colour as it is painted in the margin to his work. He willingly reveals the symmetries and relationships he has discovered whilst he creates the architecture for his paintings; two crossing diagonals may mark the centre of the painting or lead the eye to a particular form or colour”.
The late Norbert Lynton, professor of History of Art and Chairman of the Charleston Trust, wrote of Piers Ottey in 1999 “His many conscious and instinctual choices, rooted in his experience of art itself as well as working with the visible world, give his pictorial statements some independence of it. At any one moment, his spirit, together with what drives him to be a painter at all, leads him to work on this and not that. We, coming to see the results, may speak of direction and influence, but the possibilities before him at any moment are well-nigh infinite and all the time he is deciding what not to do, never or just today, and what to focus on and begin to work with. And ‘working with’ includes a whole range of processes, from experimentation to Fine tuning at the end”.
Mary Rose Beaumont, author and art historian, wrote in 2008 “Artists with a sense of humour are agile, deft and defy categorisation, which is wonderfully refreshing when the work is as challenging as 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”.