By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
I'm not saying Laura Owens didn't get brushed by that big gust of air too. But of all the painters coming out of the '90s, those souls trying to slink past the "death of painting," Owens was one of the brightest and perhaps least afraid to be silly and human and perhaps even potentially bad. Always connected to material and medium in a way that just wasn't conceptualism's jam, Owens let the paint inform her fantastical landscapes and tense Technicolor abstractions.
What's become conceptualist orthodoxy has been punctured a hundred times in a hundred places. Owens certainly didn't kill it, but looking up from her show it feels surely gone. Other attacks and attempts to move past conceptualism have tended toward a dunderheaded emphasis on formalism, complete devotion to material over ideas. Owens happily doesn't abandon or ignore conceptualism, but pushes toward a space where ideas and materials matter.
Painting has long felt isolated from the rest of art. Because of the influence of conceptualism, painting felt separate, somehow more stupidly commercial and certainly less cool. Now, in part thanks to Owens, it doesn't.
Owens isn't alone here, you feel her former professor Mary Heilman at her back and a whole community of women painters to her left and right here in L.A. becoming individually masterful in this medium, including Dianna Molzan, Mary Weatherford, Rebecca Morris, Alex Olson and Sarah Cain, to name a few. Artists in other places have attempted recalibration and redefinition for painting in other ways: London's Merlin Carpenter and New York's Wade Guyton are surely pushing painting in new directions, but with a certain cynicism.
In her new exhibit, Owens realizes much of the promise of her early years with a loud and powerful declaration for painting to be returned to the serious conversation around art. You may not be charmed by every dip and swirl or able to explicate every choice, but it would be silly to deny these paintings their force and vision, both of which are sweeping. Composed by hand and with computers, painted with silkscreens and brushes with an array of colors stripped straight from the synthetic array available when picking a website's colors, Owens' work has intelligence, heart and humor — 12 paintings that feel like a single gesture, in a way that bends the space of the room. Possibilities are just openings in the end, windows pointing out to other places. With these paintings she's surely opened some sizable windows, twelve feet high and rising.
12 PAINTINGS BY LAURA OWENS | 356 S. Mission Road, Boyle Heights | Through June | (323) 609-3162, 356mission.com