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MEET TOM OWEN | MARCH 2022 ART EXHIBIT

PHOTO via Tom Owen

TOM OWEN

Where are you from and where do you live now?
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I was born and raised in Fairfield, OH, a small city about 25 miles north-west of Cincinnati, OH. While I have lived in several cities in the mid-west, we settled in Newport, KY about 30 years ago. Newport is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati and was a haven to gangsters and gamblers in the early 20th century, and before them Riverboat Captains.  Our home is a modest, 1894 Victorian in the Mansion Hill neighborhood of the East Row Historic District.
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What's your favorite medium? Why?
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Flashe paints are my favorite; they are extra fine, water-based, highly pigmented, permanent colors. It offers optical characteristics similar to gouache or old tempera paints – the result is matte, velvety and opaque allowing it to absorb light and reflect it back as the color you see.
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When's your favorite time of day to create?
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Mornings are the best time for me to create. In general, I work Monday through Friday from 8:30 until 4:00. I paint until late morning and then read emails, respond to questions, or submit for exhibitions. Then it’s a quick trip home from my studio for lunch and to walk our two dogs, Mavis, an 11-year old Norwich Terrier and Fanny, a 5-year old Dandie Dinmont Terrier. In the afternoon, it’s back to the studio when I’m either painting, photographing work, or cleaning up!
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What motivates you to create?
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My work is inspired by landscape primarily, that is highly abstracted and distilled down to minimalist forms. I use subtle texture and layering to reflect the psychological experiences of the subject.   It could be an idea or concept, sometimes a glimpse into childhood experiences or into the political realities of current day. Deadlines also get me to the studio!
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When and how did you start creating art?
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I have been making art all of my life. Growing up I had an endless supply of paper, pencils, and paints always at the ready on a small card table in the corner of the living room. In high school, I took over the family garage as my studio. My father could build anything and my mother was a talented seamstress and artist. Both “makers” in the truest sense. From them I learned that if you make a mistake or if something doesn’t work, then you learn from it and keep trying. Seriously, what great parents!
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How do you define success as an artist?
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Art needs to expand the way we view the world or at least cause us to pause because it challenges the obvious and engages us. Does the work create a bridge between reality and perception? Secondly, I check the basics: is there variation in the line, shape, texture, form, space, color and value in the painting? Are there both loud conversations (big shapes/colors interacting, elements you would notice from across the room) and quiet conversations (the subtle interplay of color, texture, movement, etc., elements you notice up close in the work)?  And lastly, I ask, “Do I like it?” If I respond “yes” to all of these, then I’ve been a success as an artist.
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How did you develop your art knowledge and skills?
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While I am largely self-taught, art was a favorite class in high school. In fact, I won two scholarships to study art but opted for a different path (after all, one knows what’s best at 18 years old!). I have a B.S. in English literature and a M.A. in psychology both of which inform my art making. While enjoying successful careers in both the secondary and corporate eduction sectors, I always painted, exhibited my work, and accepted commissions. I left the corporate world in 2021 to paint full time. My background in business has been tremendously helpful; it enables me to apply those skills to my art practice. For the last twenty years my work has been shown in several US cities including New York, Miami, Santa Fe, Cincinnati, and in the San Francisco Bay Area; it is in private and corporate collections across the US.
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How has your style changed over time?
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Over my career as an artist, my style has continued to evolve as I gain information, see what other artists are doing, have new experiences, and learn new media and techniques. My work has evolved from colorful organic shapes that floated on the canvas to more brightly colored minimalistic, geometric shapes and forms that fill the entire space and substrate.
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If you could own a studio anywhere in the world to create art, where would it be and why?
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Florence, Italy. The food, wine, art and people!
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Name three random facts about yourself.
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I completed post-graduate work in hypnotherapy.  I taught theology and psychology to high school seniors. A photo of my husband and me exchanging our vows was included in the exhibition, “After the Moment Reflections on Robert Mapplethorpe” at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Cincinnati, OH.
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What are the biggest challenges of being an artist?
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Taking care of all of the administrative aspects: billing clients, updating my website, managing a social media presence, documenting paintings, and titling the work. A title can provide a collector, an art judge or an art jury with deeper insight into that piece of art; I tend to labor over this, over-thinking it!
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Do you have any techniques for overcoming creative blocks?
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If I get stuck when working on a painting, I take construction paper in several colors and cut it in to a variety of shapes and then randomly assemble the pieces on the table or canvas. This helps me see new relationships between color, form, and value and ultimately, a way forward. And if I’m really desperate, I'll read poetry, nap, or study the masters...and sometimes I’ll take an hour and try to paint the worst possible painting.
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What's one thing you can't live without in your studio?
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A sink! Last year I moved in to a new studio with no sink; it was the first thing I negotiated with the property owner. In my process, I am constantly washing and rinsing squeegees, spatulas, a variety of homemade tools with each pass of color so a sink is essential.
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Who do you value most in your life?
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My husband, Neil. He wants only the best for me and frees me to be my best possible self.
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Any words of wisdom you'd like to share about creating art?
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There are two ideas I go back to repeatedly. The first was expressed by the artist and teacher, Nicholas Wilton who once said, “Frequency is more important than duration.” Whether I’m in my studio for 30 minutes or 3 hours, I have to show up and do the work because, as Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
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Thank you so much, Tom! We loved learning more about you and your passion for art!
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If you're reading this, you're invited! Opening reception for Tom Owen and Janie Pinney is on Thursday, March 3rd | 6:00pm - 8:00pm | 5813 Grove Ave. Richmond, VA 23226. See you there!
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