Laura Owens exhibition review

Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
Installation view, Laura Owens, Sadie Coles London. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
 
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’.  In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
 
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks.  The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work.  If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on.  Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming.  I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
 
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data.  A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
 
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction.  Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes.  Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes.  I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
 
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play.  There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language.  There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
 
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures.  It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful.  It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture.  As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
 
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole.  I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition.  Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
 
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression.  One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.
 

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Abstract expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Over the years of visiting art exhibitions, few exhibitions have had such an impact on me as the Abstract Expressionist exhibition did at the Royal Academy.  I was staggered by the amount of impressive and inspiring works.  The first few galleries are hung in chronological order, then the order in the galleries changes and the work is hung related to styles and approaches, some rooms have work by more than one artist.  This changing approach works well as it easy to understand the relationships and contexts between the works in each room.
 
In one of the largest rooms, I found two of David Smith’s sculptures and one of Jackson Pollock’s drip painting next to each other, it was a stimulating experience.  David Smith’s sculptures ‘Hudson River Landscape’ 1951 (welded painted steel and stainless steel), and his ‘Star Cage’ 1950,  (painted and brushed steel) sat opposite Jackson Pollocks’s drip painting ‘Summertime number 94’, 1948, (oil enamel and commercial paint).  What was so intriguing and absorbing was how the lines in the three different works were so alike.  Pollock’s dancing splats of paint over the surface were heightened and intensified by the Smith sculptures. I have always delighted in interesting and complex spatial compositions and having these works next to each emphasised their associations.   While Smith calls his work, ‘drawings in space’, Pollock presents his as ‘energy and motion made visible, memories arrested in space’.  This juxtaposition of two and three-dimensional space was enlivening, inspiring and delightful to experience.
 
Jackson Pollock, Blue poles (Number 11, 1952), 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016;

 

David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016
David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016;

 

Later l found work by Frank Kline.  I always appreciate looking at Franz Kline’s work and this was the first time I had seen ‘Vawdavitch’ 1955 and ‘Andrus’ 1961, (both are oil on canvas).  The simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony is very enjoyable.  I think Kline’s work has a strong relationship with poetry and music.  When I look at Kline’s work it always amazes me how ‘less is more’.  I always think of the Mies Van der Rohe quote when looking at reduced and distilled work where simplicity is beautiful.   It looks like Kline used a wide brush to create ‘Andrus’ 1961, he uses a few simple brush gestures in layers of mars black, cadmium orange, crimson, cerulean blue and deep purple mixed with different amounts of white.  The simplicity is intriguing and really sparked my imagination.
 
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
 
If I had a criticism of the exhibition it would be that you need more time to see everything, I found it challenging to select only a few pieces of works to discuss in this review as I really did feel blown away by seeing so much artwork of such a high standard.  After a couple of hours, l needed a break.   Having spent so much time with the works I have mentioned and looking at some of the pieces by other artists I felt guilty walking past further great pieces of work because I felt my eyes and brain needed a rest.  It would be great if you could revisit the exhibition on the same ticket on a different day.  I would happily go again.
 
If you would like to read more, there is an interesting review here on the Saturation Point site written by Paul Carey Kent, after visiting this show and the at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao: 3 Feb – 4 June 2017 and comparing the shows.
 

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