A tropical monkey reaches for a western butterfly; bears, rabbits and different species of fauna romp on an island-like piece of land, encircled by a blue that is not the sea but a daylight sky with cottony clouds through which a moon-hung, traditional night sky is wedged, against whose darkness an owl sits on a branch. Landscapes, animals, times of the day and geographical realities appear simultaneously and with equal value, as do the various painterly representations and techniques, which the artist has chosen to produce her picture: aquarelle techniques with impasto painting, loving sense for detail with gestural suggestion, illusion of perspective with flat-plane abstraction, confrontational collaging with a marquetry-like interweave of different themes, realities and technical procedures.
In this encounter with Laura Owens’ paintings we meet up with every conceivable, friendly, i.e., all too familiar, picture world as a surface: whether it be the heroic formats of abstract tradition, the so-called pure experience of colour-fields and the basic forms of non-representational painting, whether it be fairytale scenes populated with fabled creatures of every imaginable cultural origin, or the decorative, adventurous flower compositions and still lifes tinged with sweetness, whether architecture, landscape and love scenes. The artist deploys all the means of picture making in the same encyclopedic way, from global high art to folk art, from the various professional fields of painting, of handicraft and the techniques of the amateur and dilettante: accomplished painting exists next to gingerbread adornment when she draws colour directly onto the canvas as though it were cake; technically perfect illusionist painting next to seemingly naïve depictions. Painting methods from different image-making processes seem inappropriately combined in one picture, and the friendliness of the motifs is always confronted with the undaunted, side-by-side alignment of her procedure along with the crass disharmony of the colour compositions.
The references Laura Owens uses for her pictures are never concealed or deployed with postmodern polemics. One could easily come up with a list of references that goes from the Renaissance, by way of Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Chinese and Japanese painting and their printing techniques, via the mostly anonymous masters of folk art and the arts and crafts, chiefly of female provenance, such as weaving, embroidering and ceramics, up to the current art history.
The all-embracing simultaneity and co-existing emplacement of all styles, techniques and motifs in Laura Owens’ pictures generate a matter-of-fact, laid-back collective creativity, which she as an individual can use and that for her paintings signifies a liberation from representation, from the gesture of historical reference and from irony, all of which can be applied as a burden to the history of picture making.
Kunsthalle Zurich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Luma Stiftung and Swiss Re