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Painter Julian Oteyza, wearing a bright, patterned vest over his black jeans and shirt, adjusts the central canvas of his triptych 15 degrees. After stepping back a few paces to assess the composition on the wall of Dupont Circle’s Foundry Gallery, he adjusts the two flanking panels so the triptych fans out like a hand of brightly colored cards.
Just as soon as he’s arranged the work, Oteyza encourages me to change it. “There’s no right or wrong way to see my paintings,” the 53-year-old artist explains. After a lifetime of criticism for doing things “wrong” by teachers and peers insensitive to his dyslexia, Oteyza decided to make rotatable art that’s always right-side up.
Arlington-based Oteyza invented Dislexart, as he calls it, about five years ago. “It was by accident, because I’m always rotating my canvases when I paint,” the artist recalls. “I realized my paintings looked good no matter how I turn them.” So his canvases—often two or three panels in a single work—are mounted on Lazy Susans.
“Dyslexics see things reversed or upside down,” Oteyza explains. “Images fluctuate.” Oteyza paints in a swirling, abstract style that makes his work legible from all angles. If he adds a figure or two, they’re often swirling in opposite, yin-and-yang-like directions so one figure is always legible. His canvases owe considerable debt to M.C. Escher’s repetitive, eye-fooling etchings and Gustav Klimt’s obsessive patterns.
But the artist’s greatest influence is the quintessential Renaissance man: Michelangelo. “I like Michelangelo because I’m an inventor, too,” Oteyza says. “I like to tinker.” Oteyza’s rotating canvases aren’t his first marriage of mechanics and art: Last July, he patented his invention of a battery-operated electric guitar he calls the Guitaround.
Oteyza and friend Linda Pirrone were on hand one recent morning to install the canvases and their Lazy Susans on the gallery’s white-painted brick walls. At the show’s opening reception this Friday, Oteyza will mount signs encouraging folks to touch and rotate the art. But in case gallerygoers remain reluctant, Pirrone has devised a backup plan: “We’ll use our children to stand around and move the art.”—Jessica Dawson
“Rotating Perspectives: A Positive Spin on Dyslexia” runs to Jan. 23 at Foundry Gallery, 9 Hillyer Court NW. For more information, call (202) 387-0203.