Untitled features columns of personal advertisements from the Berkeley Barb, a newspaper published in the 1960s and 1970s known for its sexually explicit classified section. Owens imported this source material into a computer, generating a sticker-like stencil which she then transferred onto the canvas. On top, she added white flowers and colorful markings in thick, textural strokes of paint and illusionistic shadows, which give the impression of three-dimensionality. Working back and forth between computer and canvas, Owens draws on both digital technologies and centuries-old painting techniques, weaving the two so seamlessly as to create confusion between the printed and painted image.
Gallery label from 2019
The background of this untitled work reproduces a group of personal ads from the Berkeley Barb, an underground newspaper published in California throughout the 1960s and ’70s that was well known for its sexually explicit classified section. Owens imported her source material to a computer, generated a stencil, and transferred the text to canvas. Upon that foundation, she developed a composition of monumentally scaled, abstracted white flowers punctuated by broad strokes of black, green, and red. This lighthearted decorative layering exudes an innocent charm that is waggishly incompatible with the racy content that lies beneath it. Its hand-painted quality, ranging from delicate washes to mammoth strokes of weighty impasto, offers an equally pointed contrast to the digitally printed plane that it partially obscures. Over the past twenty years, Owens has created a body of work that is at once a self-conscious examination of painting and a celebration of its visual possibilities. She became known in the late 1990s for figurative compositions that drew upon a variety of sources from both high and low art, ranging from the decorative motifs of Shaker furniture to children’s book illustrations to the art of Henri Matisse. This work was one of twelve paintings shown in 2013 in the debut exhibition at Owens’s warehouse gallery space in downtown Los Angeles, harbingers of a new, more digitally based and installation-oriented direction in her practice.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).