In 2004 Lucy Owen relocated from the UK to South Africa to return to full-time education studying art. Awarded a scholarship in 2005 and placed on the Dean’s Merit list in her final year, her work was also purchased for the permanent collection of the University of Cape Town in 2007. She graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, with a Bachelor of Arts (hons) in December 2007. On completing her degree, Owen exhibited and curated in Cape Town and illustrated the book “Nature’s Design” by Richard Thompson, for Random House Struik publishers. At the end of 2008 she returned to the UK, living in Brighton for five years and working independently as a fine artist at Trafalgar Studios. During this time Owen exhibited in several group shows, had a solo exhibition and held an auction of her work. Alongside her private practice she initiated and taught life-drawing classes and organised an open-studio event, co-ordinating 40 artists working in 5 independent studios across Brighton. In August 2013 she went to America for two months, visiting arts and cultural organisations in the Midwest. Following this trip Owen travelled to Cape Town, where she spent four months at Eastside Studios, working on new ideas inspired by her experiences in the States.
Primarily a painter, Lucy Owen’s work operates in a traditional vernacular whilst incorporating less conventional mediums and surfaces. Evident throughout is a desire to confront the viewer with the material fact of the painted surface whilst suggesting narrative deliberately open to interpretation. Owen seeks to promote a specific library of emotion particular to each body of work, achieving this either through immersive scale or manipulation of the visual dialogue between pieces. Although drawing solely from her lived experience, Owen does not tell personal stories but obliquely highlights connected ideas relative to social constructs, gently encouraging viewers to form their own questions and conclusions.
For her graduate work, New Horizons, Owen built a large-scale timber construction reminiscent of an 18th century panorama. Referencing Abstract Expressionism, she painted the inside of it flat blue, the single swimming figure on the inside and the portholes on the outside the only intimations of three dimensional space. Exhibited facing another of her paintings, almost abstract and made up of five billboard-size canvasses featuring a single chained figure, Owen engaged with notions of the Sublime and physically immersed viewers into a void. The work provoked unease by creating an overwhelming feeling of serenity whilst observing the angst of the figures; promoting questions around passivity, empathy and alienation.
Following art school, Owen decided to curate an exhibition of brand new works during her final six weeks in South Africa. The group show was called Story, and exhibited contemporary illustration and painting from Cape Town. Owen’s paintings for this show seized on, then, current local trend for nostalgia and utilised the visual language of advertising from the beginning of the 20th century. Conceptually the paintings referenced negative current events, using images from newspapers and incorporating popular features of the Cape Town landscape, the works quietly raised questions about South African apathy and desensitisation.
Owen’s work has always been about cultural identity. This undoubtedly stems from being an international student in South Africa, an experience where she was afforded a radically new perspective on her own, British, culture. On her return to the UK, Owen embraced the experience of being a foreigner in her native society within her work. Using landscape painting as a vehicle, she sought to explore the disparity between what the centre believes it projects and what the periphery actually perceives.
In 2011, after exhibiting in several group exhibitions around Brighton, Lucy Owen had her first solo show, Heirlooms. Paintings featured local houses and iconic Brighton buildings subverted with almost sci-fi additions of watchtowers, and digital surveillance equipment. This body of work also included mixed media and textile pieces devised to tap into a distinctly British nostalgia. Querying popular culture’s romantic notions of Empire in a climate of political fear and environmental concern, the work encouraged viewers to speculate on how future generations might perceive early 21st century England.
Owen is increasingly interested in cultural hierarchies and especially curious about the cultural mythologies societies subscribe to. 2014 saw a new departure, Owen’s attention turned away from landscapes toward portraits and away from Britain toward the USA; the global “Superpower” – arguably the furthest-reaching and most powerful cultural influence in the world and, famously, the greatest assimilator of every other culture on Earth.
Owen’s current work centres around a distinctly American subculture: Juggalos. Perceiving this subculture to be considered “other” by the dominant American mainstream, Owen asserts that the Juggalos’ relationship to the cultural hegemony uniquely illuminates certain social attitudes and structures to the outsider. Spending the second half of 2014 in America, she was awarded two residencies. The first at Popps Packing in Hamtramck and the second at Fortress Studios in Detroit’s North End district. Her visit culminated in an extremely successful solo show at Start gallery, Downtown Detroit at the end of the year.
Having now begun a follow-up body of related work, Owen has been invited back as artist-in-residence to Popps Packing for 3 months from October, and there are plans to have a second exhibition with Start gallery in December 2015.