Installation view of “Next,” at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York. Courtesy Nancy Hoffman Gallery and the artist.
“I am a laminator,” Frank Owen has said, and, naturally, he works in layers. Working first with polyethylene coated paper, he scores, cuts, and carves the plastic, amassing a trove of peculiar abstract shapes. Then, he peels off individual elements and applies them to canvas; in doing this, he plays the roles of both composer and editor. Finally, he paints. His palette has moments of the ecstatic (his yellow especially), the subdued, and the in-between (of this, Owen has said “there are no bad colors”). The first works he made this way were finished in 1967, and the method been a staple of his practice ever since.
His works recall big, teeming scenes of complex choreography. Owen delights in shape-making: there are globs, beams, and blurs, and constellations of splintered grids. But for all their boldness, these works allow for quiet contemplation. Take Bend Series: Spirit Sail (2015), an eclectic assortment of smears and stripes, with a folded blue corsage. Owen has a knack for portraying the delicate; his rigorous, angular rectangles, always jutting somewhere, make the shapely forms seem sensitive.
Often, his scale skews epic, as in the quilt-like Herald (2012), coming in at more than 12 feet across. Only once does he overtly embrace the figurative. Dragonfly (2013) can be seen as a kind of eureka moment in the show, which otherwise lingers in abstraction, happily poses questions without answers. Characters emerge, tropes recur, but Owen keeps the settings shifting, the roles keep shuffling. The title, “Next,” hints at the show as a kind of point of departure. In a career now spanning half a century, Owen’s works can’t help but testify to the artist’s own persistence. Here are these, he seems to say, but just you wait—there’s more.
“Next,” is on view at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, Oct. 29–Dec. 12, 2015.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory