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Meet Johnny Otto of Ottophobia in Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnny Otto.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1990, I tried to get my paintings in local galleries but didn’t have much success, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and I created a series of unconventional solo shows including ‘Art In The Alley’, which allowed motorists to drive down an alley in Hollywood that was filled with my art. Later that year, me and some friends created Art Squat and commandeered an abandoned building across from Fairfax High School and turned it into an art space that lasted for two years before being discovered and shut down.

Eventually, I began meeting more gallery owners and making my way into some of Hollywood’s more experimental galleries including 01, Headquarters, The Farhad Novia & Simon Miller Space, Ministry, and many others. Around 1993 or 1994 I submitted my art to The Angel Art benefit, an art and photography auction that was hosted by Herb Ritts, Richard Meier, Robert Graham and David Hockney. The event, emceed by Lily Tomlin, commemorated artists who have died from AIDS. I was accepted into that and met David Hockney very briefly.

But, I knew from that day forward that I wanted to do things with my art that would bring positive change to the world. I wanted to give back. So, my goal now and moving forward, is to give as much back as I can while still being able to pursue my craft.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has not been a smooth road at all. The art market is very rough, like most businesses where there is a lot of money at stake. I couldn’t make a living at it and felt lost and gave up painting for more than a decade. From 1999 to 2013 I didn’t paint at all. Nothing. I had given up the dream of being an Artist. It wasn’t in the cards for me. Then, in 2013 a friend of mine saw some of my earlier work and encouraged me to show at his gallery in Hollywood, so I put together some new pieces, ink on paper drawings, and had a show. But, again, I couldn’t sell anything.

All the pieces came home with me. And, while I love my work, I want other people to have it, to own it, to hang it proudly on their walls. Plus, my mission to help people couldn’t work if I wasn’t making any money. I did a few more shows throughout the years, and began selling hear and there, and refining my style, but it wasn’t until 2017, last Summer, that things really pick up for me. I was out filming some street art on a wall near my house and I noticed the Artist’s Instagram tag on it so I looked him up and told him that I dug his work and he told me that he thought my work was great too and he recommended that I contact Jeff Hamilton to see about being in one of his shows.

So I contacted Jeff and he invited me to be in his annual Street Art Fair DTLA, and I cannot tell you how much that lifted my spirit and I once again began pouring all of my energy into my art, and in the last year I have sold more pieces than I’ve sold in a long long time. And now I have another show coming up and getting attention form Dealers, Collectors, other Artists, etc… but the struggle is a life-long one. It continues.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Ottophobia – what should we know?
Ottophobia started off as the name for my Film Production company and gradually became the name for everything that I do, but recently, since growing my fan base on Instagram, it has been more associated with my painting. I am best known for creating these large-scale paintings that are inspired by a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts when I was about ten years old and I was blown away by all the African Art that they had.

I knew of Picasso and Van Gogh and all the other modern masters, but I didn’t know about these ceremonial Masks that the African tribes had made and they really got to me. So, now I try to recreate their spirit in a more modern context, Brighter colors, more expressionistic use of paint. That’s what I am becoming known for. I get compared to Haring, Basquiat and Picasso a lot, and I don’t mind the comparisons, but I think that I have my own unique approach.

But people have to compare you to someone, right? I think what sets me apart from a lot of other Artists is that I attack it like it’s a business. I promote it. I research how other Artists got their starts. I go to every show I can. I absorb everything around me that has to do with art and I am always pushing myself to be a better Artist and a better businessman because I see this as something that can be huge and will allow me to complete my mission, which is to help the less fortunate.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I am a self-taught Artist, meaning I never went to Art School or had any Teachers in that sense, but my greatest inspiration has always been my father. He took me to museums when I was a kid. Even though he was a Doctor, he had a great appreciation for Art. I remember him having books on Dali, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Bosch. I loved those.

And it was the trip to the DIA in Detroit that really changed my views on art. Also, my older brother Eric collected wooden African masks, so he definitely had a hand in inspiring me. Also, my Grandmother who famously slapped my hand when I was a kid because I was coloring outside the lines in a coloring book. I’ve been rebelling against that my entire life and constantly trying to paint outside the lines.

Most recently, as I mentioned, Jeff Hamilton rekindled my passion for Art, so I have to thank him. Also, it helps to surround oneself with other Artists just so you have someone to talk to about Art and it’s not boring for them, so all of my Artist friends are an inspiration

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