A recent Portland transplant, artist and graduate student Melody Owen is already making waves in the Corvallis art scene, having just opened a gallery next to her studio space downtown to exhibit some of our area’s most prominent artists—including Anna Fidler, Julia Bradshaw, Julie Green, and more—all in protest of the misogynist-ridden Trump administration.
The Nasty Woman exhibit opened last Thursday and will continue to show for another two weeks at Optic Gallery at 225 SW Madison Avenue. The gallery will remain open for as long as Owen can afford it, however, her main focus these days is in her studies, which I had the opportunity of learning about when sitting down with her recently.
Originally from Eugene, Owen has travelled and lived in many places across the globe, including New York, San Francisco, Quebec, and Paris. Early on, Owen dabbled in theater and written word, before making the transition to conceptual art. “I was frustrated with the form of writing poetry,” she said. “I wanted to make it in the real world, instead of just writing down images.”
Now working toward her master’s degree, Owen has gotten back into writing as an art form. “I kind of see all mediums as possibilities,” she noted.
Owen uses mixed media in her conceptual art work, incorporating various forms such as video, collage, and room installations. Owen’s work is represented by the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, where it’s available for purchase, and has been covered in Artforums—two noteworthy accomplishments in the world of art.
Inside the Studio
Owen’s studio is like a breath of fresh air. As we speak, I sit sipping tea amongst far-reaching plants and stacks of books in a baby-blue chair, beside a window overlooking the streets of downtown Corvallis. The books are related to Owen’s studies; she’s the lucky recipient of a full scholarship for a brand new graduate program at OSU: Environmental Arts and Humanities.
The Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative was created to bring science and humanities scholars together to creatively collaborate over environmental issues, and to focus on how to live mindfully and justifiably in our world today.
As a “poor artist and a poor graduate student,” Owen manages to remain enriched in her passions of animal rights and art. She hasn’t quite figured out her thesis yet, but over the course of the next two years plans to further study cognitive ethology, or the science of animal thoughts and behaviors. She believes that animals are intelligent creatures and is interested in the ways they communicate.
Owen often incorporates animal sounds in her artwork. She created a 30-foot Bird Song Chandelier which hangs in The Nines hotel in Portland. Made with LED lights and blown glass, Owen created visual representations of various song waves made by endangered birds in Oregon. She’s also created a 3D wooden representation of a whale song during a residency in Quebec.
So, why all the intricate dynamic work for little pay? “Just because I don’t know how else to live,” said Owen. “It’s the way I go through life. It’s the path that I’m on.”
About Owen’s Art
Owen draws inspiration from punk rock, movies like Alice in Wonderland, and art and books from the 1920s through 1940s. Her creative process is “a matter of a lot of research and thinking and collecting.”
Owen lists another source of inspiration being life’s poetic moments. “As an artist you want to translate or represent it in some way,” she explained.
Along with many of her friends, Owen has been influenced by artists such as Sophie Calle, Ann Hamilton, Kiki Smith, David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Terry Gilliam, Diane Arbus, Tom Waits, Reggie Watts, Marcel Dzama, and Jon Rafman.
Owen’s work ranges in complexity, but not in evocation. She’s displayed anything from an engraved jungle vine to jarring collaged postcards to podiums of stacked library cards. Some of her favorite room installations include a floor covered in stacks of pennies, and a room filled with hummingbird feeders with interlocking rings.
Owen takes note of the struggles in the art world. “Sometimes I don’t succeed,” she admitted. “I accept that as part of making things.”
What to Expect Next
Currently, Owen is working on virtual installations using the platform Second Life, where people can create avatars, along with buildings and places that are modeled after real life or made of pure fantasy.
“There’s so much potential, even though it’s a bizarre, dead world there,” she said.
Within the virtual world there is OSU Island, complete with a virtual MU. Owen plans on working with the university and creating her art and gallery as it is in the real world.
“I’ll probably do some kind of interchange between reality… and just what reality is and how what we think about reality is what creates reality,” Owen explained.
Other upcoming events include a Boathouse Microcinema show of boathouse artists on Feb. 15, and a Lane County Historical Society talk on human/tree portraiture on March 18.
For more information on upcoming events and Melody Owen’s work, visit https://melodyowen.net/. To purchase her artwork, visit http://www.elizabethleach.com/
By Stevie Beisswanger