Having originally seen Laura Owens work 2 dimensionally in the catalogue for the 2015 ‘Forever Now’ painting exhibition, I felt real confusion when I fist saw one of her works in the ‘Painting after technology’ room at Tate Modern. The combination between printed texture and excessive forms of paint force viewers to look closely at the canvas and then stand back to look from far away again in order to assess what is ‘real’.
This untitled exhibition simply shows a broad range of Owens works, which are not simple at all. The show is accompanied by the web page why11.com, which gives short ‘descriptions’ of a selection of the paintings. Not only was I visually grasped by Owens paintings but it is the relationship between the works, the Internet and the varying forms of description that has a total hold over my interest. These descriptions are sometimes conversations about the work which remember how they were made or their histories, sometimes samples of music that echo the tempo of a painting, an online review of a product used in the painting and some are even short bursts of poetry. Not only does this form of description free the viewer from the limitations of phonetic text, but using the Internet to archive very intimate realisations and reflections about the work creates a humble legacy in the way the work then travels around with you in your pocket. It has a life beyond the gallery.
Up close some of the compositions refuse to make ‘sense’, but after looking at another painting on the opposing wall you may turn around and find yourself looking at that unsure image again and suddenly it will make sense and you are drawn back towards it to find the point where you can see it and where you can’t and AH! It’s an image of two figures between a river and a tree in a tranquil green landscape.
Owen’s practice seems rather far away from my own interests and I’m not completely sure why her work captures me so or how it relates to my own practice. What I think I find most compelling at this stage is her painting’s ability to create physical movement in the viewer. The spectator is forced to perform a choreographed dance in front of each canvas in order to take it in, moving closer to inspect the materials, the weight of the paint can be felt with your eyes and you can smell the oil with you tongue. You move side-to-side to see what is silk screen printed and what has been applied after, and you move back again to take in the whole image. Owens paintings force the act of looking to become a physical bodily performance. A dance of understanding. It is also the ambiguity between the real and the representation of the real that I feel echoes my own interests but with Owens works this is explored through materials rather than with the concept of experiences.