Magazine article Artforum International

Openings: Laura Owens

Magazine article Artforum International

Openings: Laura Owens

Article excerpt

From Frank Stella's fat and fucked-up objets de hood to the highly caffeinated uberabstractions of artists like David Reed, Fiona Rae, and Fabian Marcaccio, ultraneurotic painting continues to make the global rounds. In a quest for true emptiness, every conceivable nonrepresentational utterance - whether the hand of the artist is manifestly present or totally absent (well, how did those brush strokes get there, Doctor?) - has been well rehearsed, walked through, and played out. Sure, the fate of contemporary painting is sublime/tragic: painting as painting, or painting as "painting" (the canvas as Philosophy 101), has been the meat and potatoes of paint culture ever since Barnett Newman brought the medium to its knees. Simply setting out to paint a great picture, is what? too easy? impossible? old hat? romantic?

Articulating reality was once a decent enough pursuit. It still is, depending on how far you take your idea of what reality is and what it is to represent it. For some folks, just getting up out of the studio chair is a scary prospect. That's where Laura Owens comes in: she's no stranger to late-century artistic torpor, but somehow she manages to rise, brush in hand, and paint.

Owens is the most unusual and interesting new painter to come out of Los Angeles (an epicenter for rad painting) in a good while. Her paintings are loaded with ambiguities: their blankness, paltry markings, quivering lines, and muted Miami colors exude large doses of vulnerability. They're also brick shithouse tough. And gigantic, too. Why? The better to be real with you, my dear - or to intimidate your ass. Like some hybrid of the protagonists of Clueless and "Little Red Riding Hood," our female lead is as knowing and diabolical as a card shark yet intensely innocent, an FBI informant going undercover to find out what happens with the Wolf before he tries to cat her.

Okay, so Owens is not the only one who wants a date with Mr. Newman, or for him to think she's okay or even sort of likes her. Like a lot of others, she's got a coffin rattling in her head; she paints and waits for a thumbs-up from the sweet Jewish guy who invented the Zip. While the surface of a Laura Owens painting bears little resemblance to the titan's colored fields, she does share his reverence for the medium. Owens is on the trail of a nonpsychological, votive moment, where areas of color exist for their own sake and chunks of a painting allude to their unfinished status, pleading with the eyeball to conjure what could be there, if anything. She works with voids as if they were solids, and though painted riffs almost jell into cartoony sequences - a thick line connects to a mushy smear that touches a benign lump, all within an airy, heady space - her inventions remain resolutely nonrepresentational. For her, painting is painting, not a story.

Yet Owens, formal stabs tilt toward the perverse: she tinkers with the whole Edge Thing - the sides and corners of her canvases are scalloped like scary psychedelic doilies. …

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