Seeing an artist grow takes ages to accomplish, especially in the modern shuffle of the contemporary market. Yet occasionally an individual comes along that has a clear goal for their evolution, an attainable and altogether visual jump. Annie Owens – in spite of all her life’s duties with running a successful magazine, curating exhibits and situating her daily rounds – has attained such a leap. With her new body of work, which opens at Copro Gallery this Saturday, March 19, the audience will see the maturing of her handiwork as well as her refined approach to her craft. Hi-Fructose’s Nathan Spoor gets the inside scoop on Annie’s latest.
Hi Annie, thanks for taking time out to talk to the readers and art lovers about your work. Would you mind telling us where you’re from, and how you began creating art?
AO: Well, hi Nathan, fancy seeing you here. I’m originally from Alabama though I have bounced around from the Philippines to San Fran and back a few times as a kid. I’d like to say I began creating art since I was kid in my grandparents’ flat in San Fran. Though truthfully, I don’t think I had the gumption to admit I wanted to be an artist until just 10 years ago. Before then I think I was just noodling.
Having been aware of your work for a short while, I can say that there seems to have been a shift of sorts – a maturing of the work. What do you attribute this new elegant emotive focus on?
Thank you. I think it’s just a natural progression – a general realignment of how I view things, maturing… sort of. Haha, though that might mean I’m pretty immature for my age! Looking back at previous work, I see I was having a lot of fun with the figures; they were almost cartoony though the subject matter or whatever it was I was going for seemed to always be touching on this spooky Gothy vibe. But as I get older and life happens the way it does, I’ve got a few new perspectives. I fell out of love with the straight up spooky and macabre. Life brings enough real grief and pain I didn’t feel like toying with it anymore. I’m still doing this self-exploration thing and what’s coming out on the paper of course is what all my own internal stuff. It’s still a little on the dark side since that’s inherently who I am – though it’s attached to things that are more grounded.
When you approach a new piece, do you know what the outcome will be or is it an intuitive or learning process?
It’s both. Watercolor has a life of it’s own. You can’t paint over mistakes or “happy accidents” as they’re sometimes called. I hear I’m supposed to just go with it. I like the look and feel of watercolors but I tend to want more control than the medium wants to give so even though I have a planned out idea, the final outcome is always very different. When I’m really married to an idea sometimes I can’t accept what happens even if other people tell me it looks great – I’ll start all over again. I’ve started certain paintings 2 or 3 times even after having past a mid or finish point. I really want to try oils but I’m going for something with watercolors that I don’t feel I’ve achieved yet so until I do, I’ll keep wrestling with it.
Is there a certain time of day or state of mind that you prefer to be working on your art? Do you listen to music or audiobooks while you create?
Oh I’m addicted to audiobooks and certain podcasts. I love Anythinghost, PRI, NPR’s Fresh Air, BloodyGoodHorror, Darkness Radio, WNYC Radiolab, Stuff You Should Know, Pseudopod, Jim Harold’s Campfire… All those really help keep me painting. It’s easy to get bored with my own thoughts so audio entertainment is the only way to keep me at my easel. Nighttime is when I’m able to work the most though I really wish it could be the mornings and daytime when I have the most energy. There’s just so much other work to do that by the time I feel I can break from the daily HF work, it’s 7 or 8pm so lately I’m up until 2 or 3 am.
As an artist, how do you know when you have a complete body of works to show, and do you edit what gets shown and what doesn’t?
I don’t know! What I do know is that I don’t feel done just yet with this one. It feels incomplete. I’ve not said what I want to say. With this show, I’m definitely editing what goes in.
Have there ever been pieces that you simply had to walk away from, or are they all fairly direct and complete in their delivery?
Yes, 2 or 3 pieces that I worked really hard on recently that I’m leaving out because they feel either false or forced. There is a stack of paintings in the back of my closet – the painting graveyard – in varying degrees of completion. A few are the same image just painted differently none being satisfactory. I’m not sure this is healthy, haha! In fact, there is one that I just finished that I absolutely love but for one fatal flaw – a wonky nose – which I didn’t notice til it was done. It’s not a perfectionist thing and wouldn’t matter to anyone else, but if it doesn’t feel right to me it has failed. There are others that may not even be appealing to other people but feel right to me so I keep it. Does that make sense?
That absolutely makes sense. Your palette at times seems very subdued and simplified. Is there a reason for the minimal approach and do you see the work taking a complex turn at any point – is visual complexity even of interest?
It’s funny because the art that I love by other artists is usually bursting with color. I never really thought about it but looking at everything I’ve ever done, even back to the “ouchclub” comics I used to do – my palate is limited throughout. In fact, the artists and photographers who most influence me worked mainly in monochromatic tones. For me, ideas come through more clearly without colors getting in my way. One or two subtle colors in a monochromatic picture feel more evocative than a whole bunch of colors though I am dying to try it! My thoughts on this apply to just my own pictures. The art that I covet is almost often full of vibrant color.
Your subject matter tends to be female in nature, and singular females at that. What are these girls saying to us, what are they trying to communicate?
I would gander to say that artists through the ages depict the female form more often than the male form – unless it’s a specific portrait or something specifically masculine in nature. Its usage through the ages just makes it more malleable in terms of representing an idea. To depict a dude nowadays, suggests something more specific to the gender. At least that’s what I feel. For example, we were just looking at a Walter Keene print the other day. We’ve got a bunch and all are girls. This one is a boy and my immediate thought was, “oh it’s a boy, I wonder what that means.” Ok so that out of the way – I girls are easier for me to relate to because, well, I’m a girl! I’d like to move away from using mainly the female figure or figures in general, away from relying on what’s familiar. But at the same time, figurative drawing/painting is really where it’s at for me. If it’s not satisfying while I’m doing it, it’s not worth the grief and effort.
As we move forward toward actually seeing your show you will have moved on in thought and activity, I assume. Is there another challenge already on your plate, or is the fact that you’ve assembled a strong body of work enough for you for a moment?
Well, this show is plenty for now. Plus Attaboy and I are getting hitched in April, curated this year’s Hi-Fructose annual show with Kristen at Roq la Rue in Seattle which opened this month. Long term, I am brewing up a film project that will likely take years to prepare for. It’s not anywhere near a starting point yet, but I like to say things out into the world so I’m forced to do it. So there it is.