Laura Owens & Vincent van Gogh
To host seven canvases Vincent van Gogh made in the last years of his life, Laura Owens has produced a monumental painting on handmade wallpaper. On the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles’s ground floor she has created an environment suspended between the premodern and the contemporary. The spaces on this level evoke not just the wallpapered interiors that Van Gogh knew from his time in Arles, but equally the world of scanners, Photoshop and digital printing.
The motifs in this wallpaper are borrowed from the work of the English artist and designer Winifred How, who studied in London in the early 20th century. By sampling and reworking How’s designs to host Van Gogh’s paintings,
Owens points to the different posthumous reputations of these two artists: while Van Gogh became a mythical figure, How is virtually unknown.
With every work she makes, Laura Owens has asked new questions about painting today, about its relationship to materials, processes and traditions that have been seen to lie outside it. Here the American artist proposes a complex wallpaper installation as an environmental painting. This painting uses screenprinting, felt flocking, black sand, oil woodblock printing, airbrushed passages, pastel and watercolour, as well as hand-painted elements. Parts of the wallpaper have over fifty layers of silk-screening; some of the paints include iridescent pigments whose colours shift under different lights. Owens also suggests that a painting can host other paintings – in this case, those of Van Gogh and her own.
Owens’s interest in Van Gogh has been apparent – if never before acknowledged so clearly – since the beginning of her exhibiting career. Her Untitled painting of seagulls from 1997, included here, riffs on Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows (1890). Many of her early collages featured photographs she had taken of his paintings in museums. As she began to experiment with impasto, one reference point was the heavily worked surfaces of Van Gogh’s late works.
For this exhibition, Laura Owens has conducted detailed research into the provenance of each of the Van Gogh paintings presented here, loaned from collections and museums around the world. This has led to a series of artist’s books, presented upstairs, which also draw from her time in Arles in 2020 during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a parallel project to this exhibition, Laura Owens instituted Luma Arles’s “Studio of the South” – a house that has been temporarily turned into a living space and studio to host artists’s residencies over the next two years. She has created tiles and ceramics for the space, and while making work in Arles, each artist who follows will add to it in their own ways. Vincent van Gogh came to Arles to experience its light and climate, but also to form an association of artists. His aim was to set up a “Studio of the South” for other painters as well as himself, and throughout her career, Laura Owens has also found ways to create communities of artists.
Curators: Bice Curiger & Mark Godfrey