Alison Owen

extolling the virtues of quiet work

Extolling the Virtues of Quiet Work

T4
Alison Owen, Add on 3, 2003
wallpaper, sequins on panel, 12 x 10 x 1/5″

Tuesday night we headed out to Claremont to see Alison Owen’s MFA thesis show. Alison is a friend, but we’re fans of her work despite the friendship, and we were quietly blown away by the quality of this show: it was luminous, witty, and subtle.

I’m not predisposed to like quiet work. I usually gravitate towards the loud and raucous, the convoluted and complex. I like work that gives, you know, that big payoff. Quiet and contemplative work takes a certain palate, a taste for green tea and Agnes Martin, and often, I don’t have the patience for such stubborn nuance.

Quiet work is often like a long-established friendship that is filled with comfortable pauses and seemingly simple observations. Loud work often has the explosive energy of a sweaty summer fling with a stranger, and is often just as unmemorable except for the tangled recollection that somethingimportant happened, you just can’t quite remember what.

Alison’s work has that long-established feeling to it, but it’s just as generous to the uninitiated. Her plywood canvasses are small and unevenly edged, gessoed a purist white, and feature delicate, thread-lined, sometimes architectural forms in the slightest hues, both balanced and unbalanced on the slightly undulating surface. Each painting has a golden ticket, a whimsical payoff. That hunt for visual treasure is nicely paired with the translucent, visual experience of the painting itself: it’s a genteel, lovely kind of fun that gives back as much as the viewer invests.

The installation of the show is as expertly handled as the work itself: a sloping painted area along the floor plays with the lines of the gallery ceiling. There’s a payoff, too, in allowing your eyes to drift up to examine the upper reaches: there’s a painting installed in the rafters, quiet as an Easter egg.