Magazine article Art Monthly

Laura Owens

Magazine article Art Monthly

Laura Owens

Article excerpt

Laura Owens Camden Arts Centre London September 29 to November 26

If there's one painter I have been waiting to see, it is Laura Owens. She is one of the youngest artists to be honoured with a solo show at MOCA in Los Angeles (partly financed by David Hockney, one of her great fans), which is no mean feat. Knowing that she will be busy for several years hence, as collectors are so eager to get their hands on her work, suggests that she just might be a serious phenomenon. Often referred to as one of the most important new painters from the USA--and she's now been so regarded for long enough to be influencing a later generation--her work is eagerly exhibited internationally. So it's something of a coup for Camden Arts Centre to be presenting her first solo public show in this country.

My first glimpse of the exhibition, however, was a disappointment. Two and a bit rooms of paintings that at first appear casually smeared onto unprimed canvases (looking like callow, contrived roughness rather than a valid technical contribution), whose subject-matter seemed chosen deliberately to provoke contempt for its cloying, sentimental sweetness and apparent lack of depth. It is the sort of work you expect from someone who spent years at art school and learnt nothing but attitude, and the fact that one large gallery is given over to preparatory studies on smaller canvases, with texts pointing out how carefully composed her paintings are, after all, suggests that Camden is having to try a little too hard with Ms Owens. Or even worse, it comes across as the artist working hard to look this bad.

But like a lot of painting, give them time and things change. The paintings on show are all from roughly the last decade, and initial impressions give no obvious hints of unifying themes. The first one to make me stop and think was the huge blue expanse that resembles a classic seascape with crude birds fashioned out of black modelling paste, Untitled, 1996. Owens pulls off a striking trompe l'oeil feat as the birds--and another indeterminate black blob--appear to float before the canvas. The sense of vast, yet particular and contained space in this picture mirrored a changing awareness of my perceptive responses to the work: despite the initial apparent lack of depth, each painting literally draws the viewer in and over the surface. Whether it is a landscape or interior, or crudely fashioned fantasy world, it is hard to resist their pull, and what at first seems casually, even badly made turns gradually complex, then fascinating. …

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