PEOPLEText: Matt Smith

A survey of paintings by 32-year old artist Laura Owens, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles is currently showing at the Art Museum of Milwaukee about ninety miles north of Chicago.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2000, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 110 x 132 in. Collection of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Owens’s large format, brightly colored images are especially fruitful for the cross-disciplinary consideration of painting and graphic design. Some of the more salient and recurring themes in the critical discussion surrounding her work’ themes summed up in terms like youthful, playful and light, might just as well apply to popular and commercial culture’s need to attract the over-stimulated viewer’s attention. These and related terms are often levelled at graphic design, especially when designers are generating their work’s content as well as its form.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2001, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 106 x 67.5 in. Collection of Marty Eisenberg, New York

The subject of several major international exhibitions, the manual and tradition-bound arts of drawing and painting have undergone extensive reconsideration in recent years. Two such exhibitions’ last year’s Drawing Now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Painting on the Move, simultaneously at the Kunstmuseum, Museum Für Gegenwartskunst and the Kusthalle in Basel, Switzerland’ included Owens among those considered representative of the current state of painting and drawing.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2000, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 72 x 66.5 in. Collection of Claudio Guenzani, Milan

Many of the Owens paintings on view in Milwaukee demonstrate how patently her practice is about painting, it’s history and processes. Abstract masses of oil paint are covered with sharp-edged, flat, opaque acrylics and gobs more oil, often in heavy, self-reflexive mountains of impasto. Some paintings are entirely abstract, unless you want to consider the expressive, caked on pigment characters in a swirling visual narrative. In one case it’s obvious that they are. A V shape stands in for a bird, and its shadow is airbrushed in. Others are landscapes, and others still feature monkeys, butterflies, birds and plants surrounded by paint for paints sake.

These last issues introduce significant parallel questions for the field of graphic design. Is design mature enough, or critically dense enough to sustain the proliferation of designer’s excercises in self-promotional or just self-indulgent graphics for their own sake?

Laura Owens
Date: October 17th, 2003 – January 18th, 2004
Place: Milwaukee Art Museum
Address: 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53072
Tel: +1 414 224 3200

Text: Matt Smith
Photos: Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles © Laura Owens

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