Just before her Los Angeles retrospective, Owens was invited to hold a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In the works created during and after her time at the museum, which houses a collection known for its decadent, controversial juxtaposition between ornamental and fine arts – Owens used imagery and motifs from all manner of textile, patterning, landscape painting and animal depictions. The now well-known use of living beings, especially animals, in her work was initially a means to bring together the space and the story of the work, similar to the way Stewart Gardner had curated her collection. This whimsical iconography and appropriated imagery is particularly evident in the rich symbolism of Untitled. Botanical references, such as the flowers and tree, have been part of Owens' oeuvre since her show at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh in 2000. The plants referenced botanical teachings drawings, combined with a style similar to that of Japanese landscape paintings, thus alluding to the traditional arts. With this, Owens steps away from the abstraction many of her contemporaries favour, moving back to figurative art. As a highly self-conscious artist, Owens often cites her own paintings and reuses imagery – much like the squirrel in Untitled. Simultaneously, the saturated colours and easy but confident brushwork results in paintings like an illustration from a children’s book: easy to understand and instantly engaging. By leaving a large part of the canvas untouched, Owens encourages exploration and interpretation by the viewer in order to understand the whole. The raw canvas is similar to the series of works Owens created for her exhibition with Chris Ofili and Peter Doig in 2002 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The reminiscence of scenes from books comes from a need to tell stories, as Owens has said that she has an intrinsic urge to tell stories but cannot put them into words, making her paintings an expression of these stories or scenes.
With the best qualities of children’s books, Owens works are not naïve or simplistic, but are rather created out of curiosity and wonder from an imagination that knows no limits. Untitled is a sublime example of Owens' wit and comedic beauty, combining her well known use of design iconography, decorative elements and cartoons.
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