This week we have been talking to Jonathan Owen, considering aspects of his practice such as labour, process and the somewhat unusual choice of materials used as the base for his projects…
Owen often uses stills images from Hollywood films to alter the viewers perspective of the scene: maybe we should spend a Sunday afternoon watching these classics to visualise the missing central characters…
I Could Go On Singing: Directed by Ronald Neame, 1963
Suddenly, Last Summer: Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959
If we think of Owen’s process of creating a drawing by removing parts of the whole, by taking away from an already existing image, we are reminded of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, who first instigated this concept as an artwork.
In 1953 Rauschenberg set out to push the limits of an artwork and the traditional notion of the artist as creator by using this type of action. He began by attempting to erase his own drawings, but decided that the original drawing needed to have some significance. if its removal from existence was to become noteworthy. Thus he created the Erased de Kooning Drawing. The story goes that he approached the artist Willem de Kooning, the famed and respected Abstract Expressionist, at his studio to ask for an image that he hoped to erase from the paper. De Kooning was reluctant but intrigued, so planned to make Rauschenberg’s ‘neo-Dada’ art act as difficult as possible. He presented the younger artist with a multi-media drawing, covered in layers of ink and crayon. It took Rauschenberg one month to re-present it as a relatively plain white piece of paper.
This subversive action of the 1950s has been described as a form of “genteel iconoclasm” by the curator Vincent Katz, a term that mirrors Owen’s “elegant vandalism” of today.
Image Credit: Erased de Kooning Drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953: Collection SFMOMA © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Richard Ingleby on Jonathan Owen’s “elegant vandalism” on display at the Ingleby Gallery in 2014.
Richard Ingleby : Jonathan Owen from arts-news on Vimeo.
Click the link above to watch Richard Ingleby talk about Owen’s 2014 exhibition at The Ingleby Gallery.
As part of the 2016 Edinburgh Arts Festival, Owen created his first site specific work, transforming a 19th century sculpture of a nymph. Housed within the Burns Monument on Calton Road, the sculpture reflected the neo-classical temple surrounding it, echoing the homes of similar antique deities from long ago. Owen’s “anti-monumentalising” effect on the sculpture further echoes the history of the space: the removal of the Robert Burns sculpture that once stood in this nymph’s place effectively transformed the memorial into an anti-monument itself, mostly closed to the public, its purpose lost.
Jonathon Jones for the Guardian described the uncanniness of the sculpture: “Something is wrong. Her slender body is harmonious enough to please the most Enlightened philosopher, but her throat is missing. […] Closer up, the horror and disturbance grow.” Yet there was also a great beauty, elegance and poignancy in the nymph’s somewhat lonely position, up on that hill. The sculpture is the first female figure the artist has worked his magical defacement on, using it to subvert the traditional view of the male gaze that once weighed on her.
Read the Guardian Review of the 2016 Art festival here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/aug/03/edinburgh-art-festival-review-jonathan-owen-douglas-gordon-joseph-beuys-scottish-endarkenment
The unquantifiable nature of what is left behind after we have reduced, removed and sculpted an object is a primary fascination of Liverpool born artist, Jonathan Owen. What happens to an objects identity when it has been altered? How do we know when an artwork is finished and how do we recognise permanence are all questions considered within his practice.
Owen takes ready-made objects, most notably, sculptural busts and film stills and shapes, crafts and re-thinks their formal qualities, creating artworks which are physically less, but conceptually more.
The classic and antiquated qualities of busts and sculptures have centred in a vast series of earlier works by Owen. He begins with a found sculpture, originally crafted in a traditional and regimented way. From here the original form of the artworks are altered and re-shaped using rustic processes; such as the use of a knife or bone. Owen carves chain links through the hearts of the sculptures to create new and contemporary dialogues for artworks previously considered ‘complete’.
For Between poles and tides, Owen’s Eraser Drawings can be viewed on the lower level of Gallery One. Similar to his sculptural works, Eraser Drawings are representative of a mysterious and enigmatic practice, wherein Owen removes layers of ink from images, displaying and uncovering what was or could have been.
Image Chris Park
Lauren Hawkins, Talbot Rice Gallery intern.