Blind Alley projects is pleased to announce Gene Owens: Letters from G.O., an exhibition of works by the Fort Worth artist, Gene Owens which was curated by artist and Director of the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas, Patrick Kelly.
Kelly offers the following insights into the exhibition:
Gene Owens (b. 1931) once stated he creates sculptural works by “operating in a world that respects the empirical, the logical, and objective view…if need arises, I can apply these disciplines to my daily problems. I cannot however create in such a frame of mind.” For more than six decades Owens has been embracing and mining the logical and intuitive, allowing him to create innovative works that often push the boundaries of process and material.
Owens’ seemingly alchemical means of creation suggests that the process is of equal importance as the finished product. The means to the end often involves extensive research followed by trial and error in developing unusual bronze casting techniques, experimental patinas and plating, innovative clay formulas, and intricate porcelain molds. The results are reductive, polished, and machine-like forms—emblematic of the modern age and its lofty promises. Simultaneously, he creates organic or anthropomorphic objects, allowing them to take form either through the uncontrollable laws of nature or guided by the artist’s skillful manipulation of materials. On occasion the two approaches intersect, creating biomorphic shapes with reflective surfaces that Owens suggests “eliminate any reference to former uses of bronze material” by “removing the romantic surfaces…often associated with bronze’s trumped up patinas.” Recognizing the futility of maintaining the polished surface, he permits the ravages of time and nature to manipulate the objects—allowing “chance” to enter the creative arena once again.
Owens’ titles range from the witty to the contemplative, providing an additional dimension to the works. More than simple descriptors, they reference characters in Greek mythology, Hindu gods, artists, poets, birth, family, seasons, the space program, and stellar bodies. Together, image and text often suggest human and technological fallibility and the redemptive hope of renewal.
Owens’ path to artistic maturity began in the mid-1950s while studying at Texas Wesleyan College, Fort Worth and the University of Georgia, Athens. During these “student” years he was given opportunities to meet, be mentored by, and be a student of established Texas artists of an older generation. Some of these artists, Evaline Sellors, Kelly Fearing, Dickson Reeder, George Grammer, Bill Bomar, and Bror Utter were part of the Fort Worth Circle. Other artists included McKie Trotter, Ed Storms, Charles Umlauf, and Charles Williams. In 1961 Owens was fortunate to meet the internationally known sculptor Isamu Noguchi while Noguchi was in Fort Worth working on a commission for the First National Bank. A May 14, 1962 letter inquiring if he could work with Noguchi “in some capacity” developed into Owens traveling back and forth between Texas and New York working as an assistant to the sculptor for the next decade.
Through Noguchi, Owens met many of the leading American Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists including Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. The commercial aspect of the art world and the way it operated also became evident during this time—disillusioning Owens, who regarded art and its creation more of a “spiritual enterprise” than a business venture. Even after his tenure with Noguchi, the two continued a back-and-forth correspondence up until Noguchi’s death in 1988. These valuable experiences, coupled with the knowledge he gained from his Texas mentors, influenced and directed not only Owens’ work but also his perspectives and attitudes about the art world.
Gene Owens is recognized as one of the pioneers in modern Texas sculpture, with examples of his work found in numerous private and museum collections. Though he recently moved from his home and studio in Cleburne, Texas to California, he continues to create and refine his process. His impressive body of work serves as another letter to Noguchi and generations of artists to come.
Patrick Kelly is the Executive Director and Curator at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Texas. He received a BFA from the University of North Texas and an MFA from Texas Christian University. He has organized and curated numerous exhibitions focused on mid-twentieth century Texas artists as well as the contemporary Cell Series of exhibitions at the OJAC. He first encountered the work of Gene Owens within the OJAC’s collection many years ago, which led to a friendship with the artist and the curation of Gene Owens: Modern Vision in 2012.