Mark Ottens

Mark Ottens received a BFA from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 1992. While at AIC he would wander the museums and the neighborhoods of Chicago absorbing the vibrant life and history and decoding them into image based paintings. These views of Chicago influenced his art, leading into his masters in 1995 at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The UIC, at the time, had a heavy focus on conceptual art and painting. 

Over the years Ottens claims that he became,

"disillusioned with the image, with the figures and characters featuring in my paintings. In the end they let me down. I didn't believe in them anymore, and I came finally to not being able to understand why it was I was painting them."

After this moment of realization, Mark Ottens' work became increasingly focused on elements of color, pattern and abstraction to further stray away from the "image" and the figural focus. The work Ottens now produces explores richly layered patterns that build into jewel like paintings. Even at a small scale, these works suggest infinite, expansive cosmic fields that transport the viewer into dazzling fields of freedom and wonder. 

Portrait Society Gallery previously included Ottens' work in "Drawn Out," a group exhibition in 2017. The spring 2019 show at Portrait Society Gallery "Linger On" is his first solo exhibition at the gallery.

Selected Exhibitions

2019 "Linger On," solo exhibition, Portrait Society Gallery.

2018  Summer Group Show, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL

2017  “Drawn Out,” Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, W

2016  “Summer in Wisconsin,” Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee, WI

2015  “CHROMA,” Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee, WI

2014  “Summer in Wisconsin,” Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee, WI

2013  “Delineation,” ArtPrize 2013, Calvin College (106) Gallery, Grand Rapids, MI

2011  “Color Vibrations,” Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee, WI

2010  “New Work,” Gallery Uptown, Grand Haven, MI

2007  “Eight Counties,” John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, WI

1999   Solo show, Bucheon Gallery, San Francisco, CA



Artist Statement

Chicago, a song. A distant melody. A dirge, as background music in a half-remembered dream. The music in the names of streets. Each the title of a stanza of a sprawling and unending poem: Stony Island, Lake Shore Drive, Morse Avenue, Devon, Howard, Cermak, Ashland, Damen. The unrelenting sirens, the rumbling of the elevated, unending blasting of horns. There is in there a calling, the tugging on or pulling of its elusive and mystical wind. A cacophony, the unusual calming disorder of a maelstrom. A flowing sea of disparate impressions, of jarring images and fading memories. A cat’s meow riding on a carne asada taco in the neighborhood of a heavily discounted wig cloaking a half-eaten submarine sandwich.


I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I would wander in the museum daily, looking at everything. I would also wander through the varying neighborhoods of Chicago. The images from the museum would float in my head and intermingle and mix with the impressions taken in while passing through Chicago’s streets. I saw a de Chirico and the face of a shooter a half-minute before he pulled the trigger. A bar fight and a Reubens. A de Kooning and the chipping of my chin on the curb. Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon and the occasional can of beer that I would leave behind the dumpster for the man who slept there. Fried fish and hot sauce from Ben’s eaten on a trestle bridge and a small glowing painting by Klee floating over the still Chicago River. Human discharge in the entryway of a Chicago Avenue apartment, and an early Jackson Pollock. Late at night on a rooftop on Milwaukee Avenue, with the first big flakes of snow of the winter, and John Sloan. The wind coming cold off Lake Michigan, and Ed Paschke reflected in the glass of the buildings. Shucking a final peanut, stepping out of the place, the cold bites my teeth, and I see Van Gogh’s bedroom and certainly I can understand his desire for companionship as I try to figure out a way to get home.


It may have had something to do with youth. But I think there was a particular wind in that city that succeeded in blowing around in my head a certain way of looking at things, of putting things together. A way of seeing that probably wouldn’t have happened in any other place. A poetics of incongruity, strains of melodic discord. The art of Chicago, the art in Chicago, the Chicago artists influenced me as a student at the Art Institute.


I was then making odd image-based paintings, and figured I always would. Some of the memorable teachers of that time were Ted Hawkins, Ray Yoshida, Carl Wirsum, and Jim Lutes. I went to graduate school at UIC, which was then very much about conceptual art. Painting was considered suspect. Most who started as painters ended as installation artists. I left still painting. And although the school was heavily conceptual, there were still people painting on the staff. Some of these were Rodney Carswell, Julia Fish, Phyllis Bramson, and Kerry James Marshall. Not only did I leave there painting, but my work was still primarily image-based. But over the years I became disillusioned with the image, with the figures and characters featuring in my paintings. In the end, they let me down. I didn’t believe in them anymore, and I came finally to not being able to understand why it was I was painting them. Areas of color, patterning and abstract elements began appearing at the tail end of my imagist paintings. These were the things that I then became interested in. And finally became the paintings in and of themselves. Dropping the figure gave me an unusual and unexpected sense of lightness. A freedom of sorts, a new optimism, maybe. I think that I used to want the paintings to function as the pick to break the ice on the sea frozen within. Now I am making them more to be used as the comforting chair for the wearied traveler.


Historic Third Ward

207 E. Buffalo St. Ste. 526

Milwaukee, WI 53202

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