Donald Kuspit on Frank Owen
Painter Frank Owen, now eighty-three, remains to be making dramatic and complicated works charged with spontaneous gestures, daring geometric types, and stunning juxtapositions of luminous shade. One is supposedly much less lively and in a position in previous age, however not Owen, because the work in “Retrospection,” his solo presentation at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, clearly affirm.
His compositions are remarkably energetic and acknowledge his debt to Summary Expressionism. Though the artist was struck by Jackson Pollock’s artwork when he was a younger man, he goes his personal exuberant manner, eschewing Jack the Dripper’s extra death-inflected peregrinations.
In accordance with psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, life’s growth passes via eight psychosocial phases, every imbued with a selected battle. On the final leg, the battle is between sustaining integrity (and sociality) and succumbing to despair (and isolation), which brings with it a way of the meaninglessness and worthlessness of existence. The canvases within the exhibition are a sworn statement to Owen’s integrity, his utter defiance of sorrow. Definitely, one can regard the flat black planes in Definer, Grazer, Lecture, and Enterprise, all 2022, as potential signifiers of dying, however the sensible flickering hues that encompass them—simmering yellows, sensuous oranges, and revivifying reds, to call merely a handful—recommend a extra ecstatic visualization of the good hereafter and a deep engagement with the vicissitudes of portray.
The vast majority of the works on show have been painted in 2022. Among the many extra notable early items included within the present was Stone Research III, 1990. Its great picket body, adumbrated by charcoal-colored lumps encircled by halos of pale grey, is charged with gestures that remind me of Kandinsky’s embrace of “the idea of shifting electrical energy,” which he used to justify his personal model of abstraction. On the coronary heart of the piece are the titular rocks, marvelously rendered and levitating above an anxious, wiry grid. The canvas, imbued with an otherworldly presence, feels oracular, although what it’s attempting to predict is a whole thriller.
Kandinsky additionally spoke of the significance of an paintings’s “temper,” and, certainly, Owen’s work are lots moody. Some appear exquisitely delicate to nature, as the stunning, juicy floral types hovering over a pale floor in Untitled, 2001, indicate. Winter Wheat, 1974, the earliest piece on view, epitomizes this acuity: Its skinny, nervelike bands in white, crimson, blue, and inexperienced—organized into giant, voluminous clusters—are concurrently turbulent and managed, visceral and refined.
The entire canvases on this present are of singular aesthetic high quality and possess a sustained expressionist vitality, and as such they’re consummate masterpieces, all of the extra so as a result of they remind us that Owen’s most popular medium is joyously alive. Owen says that he was a part of “a vibrant group of younger (and older) artists” who “tried to counter the assertion that ‘portray is useless.’” His fecund works current what the artist phrases “Whew” moments—that’s, contemporary new factors of formal invention the place spontaneity and construction appear inseparable, the place perceptual and emotional experiences aesthetically converge. In accordance with him, the exhibition is “an act of wanting again,” however it’s indisputably going through ahead, chock-full of “visible densities” and “a number of picture occasions,” to make use of his language, making the works what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls peak experiences. Previous age has ripened Owen’s artwork to candy perfection, because it possesses all that summary portray can present with beneficiant abundance.