Laurence Owen is a painter whose work marries a faux-naïve aesthetic with a profoundly transcendental sensibility. While recent works have explored the language of repetition, his current exhibition Wish You Were Here explores a unique universe that feels intensely hallucinatory and lysergic in character – a cutesy candy-coloured vision underscored by a sinister alien otherness. Blank figures pass though the strange environs of his paintbrush like ghosts, suggesting fragile, haunted and fractured identities as they glow quietly with an archetypal light. AnOther stepped into the strange world of the 26-year-old artist to discuss fragmented narratives, surreal realms and the darkness at the heart of kitsch.
“The first thing I can remember drawing as a kid is planes on chip paper at my nana’s house, and I think that sparked an interest in the idea of using your hand to create your own reality or environment – something that you could feel really feel at home in. I definitely escape into the worlds I create, but with a kind of objective stance, because I’m very aware of the historical baggage painting carries as a medium. I try and find that happy balance of pure self-indulgent escapism, mixed with an awareness of the medium I have chosen to work in. I’m interested in the fragmentation of different sources from many different elements in art, life, landscape and music, and in trying to construct them together in a false environment through recognisable symbols. I think this practice creates a kind of surreal yet familiar realm. It’s interesting for me personally to not give too much away, though. I don’t like to fill the canvas to the brim with suggestion and information. I think it’s really nice to leave space in a mark-making and narrative process, because then the work ceases to have a beginning, middle or end. The pleasure is trying to marry or bridge two things together – abstraction with the figurative… It’s kind of about creating a sense of fractured or disjointed identity. In this work, I was very inspired by A Crack Up At The Race Riots and Finnegan’s Wake, and I wanted to visually communicate the idea of collage stories – those things that essentially have fractured linearity and meaning, but also this kind of conclusive physical finish, or an end that you can kind of read through to. I mean, they’re all different stories but they all relate together in the kind of surrealism of it all. I think painting will always be at the spine of everything I do, although I realise the medium is almost kind of self-imploding as it becomes almost purely self-reflective and about itself. I hope this work has a hallucinatory feel with a sinister element that underlines it all – sunny landscapes with very dark skies and overly kitsch elements. I mean, what’s in your face and overtly ‘happy, happy, happy’ has always got something going on underneath, and that surface and the tension of what lies underneath is something we always need to look at in life. That is really what fascinates me. I think you can make an analogy with a lot of looped music and sampled sounds – they’ve got so many fractured elements and the more you listen, the more depth you hear. However, I think it’s almost the viewer’s concern to get whatever they can out of the work. I’m don’t necessarily want them to look at it and see beauty in it but I do believe that I’m essentially trying to leave it open enough to pass that idea into the view, as opposed to trying to create something that’s, you know, beautiful.”
Wish You Were Here runs at 20 Hoxton Square until June 18 2011.
Text by John Paul-Pryor