Installation view, Laura Owens, Sadie Coles HQ, London. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
You might describe American painter Laura Owens as the artistic equivalent of a DJ. Across her canvases she samples, mixes, chops and drops a near-infinite number of images, processes and styles with thrilling improvisation. She swipes and dabs and stipples, applying paint in the thinnest of washes and the thickest of impastos. Ricocheting between imagery and abstraction, she paints everything from geometric shapes to teapots (subtitled with the word ‘Teapot’: she brings in text too). And by adding items like tennis racquets and bicycle wheels to the odd piece, she brings sculpture into the mix too.
These pieces are a sight to behold. And to see the playfulness with which they’re constructed, layer upon layer, is actually rather breathtaking: how a passage of splattered neon has actually been snipped from another canvas; how real plastic mesh has been laid on top of painted plastic mesh. Each work is a dizzying story of its own making. (Also on display are Owens’s handmade books, which are essentially tabletop, flip-through versions of her paintings.)
But here’s the problem. Sadie Coles has programmed this show to coincide with Frieze week, the height of the art world’s commercial calendar. And Owens is a highly sellable artist. There’s way, way too much work on display. Paintings as flashy and virtuosic as these work best in isolation (the living room of a Georgian townhouse or New York loft, for example). So if you visit, I’d suggest finding a piece that catches your attention, and focusing in on that. Amassed in the dozens like this, Owens’s paintings just become a dazzling, glorious, overwhelming noise.