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Alison Owen: Insights Into a New Artistic Practice

On January 1, 2018, Greenpoint-based artist Alison Owen embarked on a new artistic challenge: to create and finish a work of art every day, for 30 days straight. And she had only one rule – each piece had to be a vase.

But 30 days came and went, and a month turned into 2 months, then 3, and so on. And she never stopped.

To date, Owen has been making a vase – in some shape or form – every single day since she started. And she will keep going, with the intention of creating a new piece daily for the remainder of 2018.

In a recent write-up in Architectural Digest, Owen speaks to the commitment involved, and how creating something new every day reminds her of the importance of making room for art in the hustle and bustle of daily life. She also describes the direct impact on her process: “…Sometimes the constraints are what [make] the work more interesting.”

Owen’s latest body of work ranges from collages made from old postcards and design magazines, to functional ceramic vases, constructed and adorned with materials donated by and scavenged from other artists over the years. Owen has described this process as a kind of dialogue between she and the artist who contributed the materials, and as a way of demonstrating how something with little or no value can be transformed into something with both aesthetic and practical worth. Owen cites a specific example, wherein she incorporated into her work elements of a paint rag and a palette of dried paint left over by an artist with whom she had shared a studio space this past summer: "My work [is] a sort of response to [her] preferences and choices, and an acceptance of [her] aesthetics into my own."

The artist's works in ceramic betray the influence of both ancient Egyptian forms, as well as paintings by artists like Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). These artists' still-life paintings often portray interior spaces that contain images of bottles/vases that were rendered in a two-dimensional, "flattened" manner. For Owen, this particular style was especially "expressive", and served to inspire her to create her own works that were seemingly "off-perspective". In fact, when viewed from head-on, her vases do appear to have a two-dimensional quality; when seen from the side, they are clearly three-dimensional but suggest a slightly "skewed" sense of perspective. "[It's] almost like I'm cutting objects out of a painting and propping them up and forcing them into a 3D space," Owen says.

With these new pieces Owen revisits what is still a relatively new artistic practice for her. In fact, it was her first exhibition at Greenpoint Hill in 2017 that signified a marked departure from the kind of work for which she had, until then, been renowned – site-specific, ephemeral installations derived and inspired by the very space in which they were on display. It was at Greenpoint Hill last year that she had revealed another side to her art-making, displaying individual, stand-alone ceramic pieces that were intrinsically durable, enduring, and even functional. Owen said, in an interview with leading up to the show, that she “[likes] having two art practices; they seem to complement each other nicely”.

In Owen’s work are suggestions of the importance to her of being transparent about her process. In one instance, the handle of a vase had broken off; she fixed it with a piece of cloth cut to match the shape of the missing handle. Owen compares this to the Japanese process of kintsugi, in which cracks are patched with gold in order to highlight – and even celebrate – these flaws. In other instances, evidence of the ceramic having been bisqued – that is, fired in the kiln for the first time – are preserved, and the glaze-firing step skipped; in this way, accidental, organic changes to the color and texture of the bisqued ceramic are leveraged for aesthetic impact of the finished piece. Owen's other work also betrays evidence of her process: to create a ceramic vase, she cuts the shape out of a sheet of clay; she then uses the scraps cut away from the outline of the vase to construct her collages. In this way, she says, "...people who are looking at the work all together can get a sense of what my process is... by seeing the leftover pieces and putting the two together."

The vases Owen has created to date are on display at Greenpoint Hill Gallery through October 14th. This is a prime space for her latest work. Curator and gallerist Kim Brown describes the gallery’s mission in relation to its locale, in that it seeks to make art accessible to not just collectors, but to Greenpoint locals as well. In a time when gentrification is rapidly changing the socioeconomic landscape of Greenpoint – and Brooklyn at large – she and other, like-minded gallerists have been working with resident artists and newcomers alike to embrace gentrification in a manner that makes art accessible to everyone. Owen’s new work, like much of the work that is displayed/sold at Greenpoint Hill, aligns with this responsibility and can be procured for a varied purpose: either as an art artifact, or as a functional adornment.

Visit the artist’s website >>

Visit Greenpoint Hill Gallery >>

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