Artistic License: Catherine Owens

Penny McCormick speaks to award-winning artist CATHERINE OWENS about her new exhibition at the OLIVER SEARS GALLERY

An award-winning artist at the forefront of digital technology, Catherine Owens’ new exhibition at the Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin 2, merges drawing and painting with LED lighting technology and audio. The result is complex paintings which impress with their seeming simplicity and tranquility.

Your new exhibition “6am” brings together drawing, painting, audio technology and LED lighting. The texture of the artworks is also interesting, seemingly composed of bits of paper. What was your starting point?

The starting point for this work was to develop a way to create work that radiates light both organically and using LED technology, while refining and simplifying the materials needed to achieve this. Using shards of torn paper, painted on the reverse side, the works emanate a hue of colour based upon the reflection of light.

As an artist who’s training was in painting, sculpture, print making and installation work, and later as a collaborator on projects using LED technology, I have focused on how to weave these materials together while developing a conversation around a social, environmental and political inquiry.

The underlying theme of your exhibition addresses the subject of migration; could you explain this please?

In a recent exhibition at Kustera Projects in Brooklyn New York, I created an installation that included of a series of two large triptych LED paintings. The works created a cycle of light that washed colour throughout the space, evoking a sense of the time change from sunrise to sunset. This work was in support of a story of a young woman from Guatemala who at 18 years of age walked from Mexico to Houston Texas looking for a better life, it was an intimate tale of leaving, of loss, of grief and of renewal. Also included in the audio presentation was the sound of the dawn chorus and the composition work of the Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy.

For the exhibition “6am” I am taking two of the elements from this show, the use of light and the sound of the dawn chorus to further simplify this exploration. As a migrant myself, who left Ireland for America in the mid-80’s I am keenly aware of the emotional cost of leaving home and the triggers that light and sound can evoke in relation to memory and longing. I am very interested in the power of these triggers.

As an expert in digital technology you have worked with U2 on several world tours, can you tell us about the highlights of this experience?

On a creative level as an artist collaborating with U2, it has been an education in team work and in the use of technology. The technological canvas I was given to work with has informed and shaped how I use materials today. Highlights include the work we did developing the language of animation for the large LED screen format on the POPMART tour in 1997/8, working with some of the great artists and foundations at that time like Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, the Warhol foundation, and David Wojnarowicz on the Zoo TV tour; this learning curve was very inspiring.

Another highlight was the opportunity to be a director and a producer on the 3D film U23D. We were part of an amazing technological journey, and the film had significant influence on other 3D films that were being made in Hollywood at that time. Again a fantastic canvas on which to explore image making.

How and where do you work?

I have a small studio in upstate New York where I spend a lot of time, it’s filled with light and is in a very quiet building. Then I have a larger studio near Lismore. I tend to work from 10.30am until about 8pm, I try to get out of the studio by 6pm, but there are days when I look at the clock and it’s late!

All the work I do begins with drawing, usually line drawing in pencil or marker. If it works in the drawing – no matter how complex the materials or project may become, I can make it work… but if there is resistance in the drawing, I will most likely abandon the idea.

You live in New York and have a studio near Lismore. How often do you return to Ireland?

I come to Ireland a few times a year, I enjoy the extremes of New York City living and life in a small village surrounded by fields, cows, and sheep. It would be hard to imagine not having access to either as they both inform the journey and the concepts that drive my work.

Need to Know: “6am” opens at the Olivers Sears Gallery on June 28 and runs until July 31; 29 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2. www.oliversearsgallery.com.

Penny McCormick

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