Visual Vernacular: Artist Owen Drysdale
Owen Drysdale, “Mulberries (in the tread of my shoe),” 2016 (detail)
Morphing memory, sensation, and season is something that artist Owen Drysdale is particularly poignant and talented with in his paintings. In his upcoming exhibition at Barbara Davis Gallery, Hot Summer Deadly Day, Drysdale will exhibit a collection of new paintings drawn from his experience with the overbearing and heavy heat of summer. Seemingly limitless landscapes and familiar faces are the launching point for an inner dialogue, one that hones in on specific happenings that become a part of one’s fabric. Specific memories that involve sight, sound, and feeling, Drysdale takes everything from the wetness to the lushness of summer to the canvas. Through a careful composition of color, creating a gentle burst of visuals, Drysdale’s gestural marks take on various identities and invite you to ponder specific memories. These recontextualizations of one’s memories are something Drysdale strives to show in his art, a show that allows exploration of his encounters and allows the viewer a chance to float in thought. Owen was kind enough to answer some questions about how this process of color and memory play out in his show.
Free Press Houston: Do you have any fond memories of interacting with visual art as a child?
Owen Drysdale: There used to be this Morris Louis painting hanging in the hall of The Menil Collection. One of those where the pours of color come in from the sides and make these triangles on corners. I remember standing close, in middle of that vast white space, feeling those colors in my periphery and thinking that that’s where the real painting was. That somehow in absence, through a lack of labor there could be so much space.
Owen Drysdale, “Oasis,” 2016
FPH: What were your high school and college artistic experiences like?
Drysdale: I attended Texas State University in San Marcos as an undergraduate and graduated in 2013. My experience there was really formative and I was able to find a close group of friends who all turned out to be extremely talented and dedicated people. A “right place, right time” kind of deal. We all pushed each other to make the best work we could. Finding that kind of community felt rare even then so I keep an eye out for it. But I’ve since moved from Texas to Syracuse, New York, where I’m currently working on my MFA at Syracuse University. I’m starting my final year in the fall and I’m happy to feel like I’m onto something. Syracuse is much closer to New York City and can make it down for the weekend once in awhile. I’ve got a studio with plenty of room to do whatever I can think of, I even had the chance to participate in a residency through the university in London last fall. I’m doing what I can to take advantage of it all while I can.
FPH: In your work there are direct choices in use of color and perception. Tell me about how you pick your palette.
Drysdale: My palette comes in large part from wanting to create paintings that are evocative our experience of landscape, so it’s important that the palette be able to connote to certain places without naming them explicitly through representational imagery.
Owen Drysdale, “Tiger’s Blood,” 2016
FPH: Your upcoming show at Barbara Davis Gallery specifically notes the heat and happenings that occur during summer months. Tell me about how you’ve taken some particular places and seasonal encounters and transferred them to an artistic landscape.
Drysdale: The types of experiences vary quite a bit in the show and some things are more specific than others. But they all center, in one way or another, around my time in San Marcos. I’ll use a specific event, place or action and begin to start a painting. Like the sensation of swimming or that brain dead feeling you get from being overheated. I’ll focus on that image or feeling as I’m working and follow it as I start associating it with other things. There gets to be this point where my actions as I am painting align themselves with the images and material associations in my mind. It’s a way for me to open that experience back up and try to get back at it again. I’m fascinated with this type of thought. How images, events and colors can become symbols in our lives that reach further into us that we may have expected. Painting can place me back into that experience and I can affect and be affected by the physical action of painting. It begins to make this loop that is constantly changing and subtly shifting in meaning. Painting is the most immediate way for me to articulate this intuitive thought process.
FPH: As a visual artist, what is one of the things you are most fond of that you display in your work?
Drysdale: I’ve always been interested in pictorial representation and the resulting tension that is created when a painting cannot readily be categorized as either abstract or representational. I’m drawn to one that uses both. I’m making work that provides a structure for a narrative understanding for the work but at the same time denies it. I want painting to draw me in, throw me out onto the surface and drag me back. Like you found clarity for just a second only to see it dissolve.
“Hot Summer Deadly Day,” a solo exhibition by emerging artist Owen Drysdale, opening Friday, July 15 at Barbara Davis Gallery (4411 Montrose) with an reception from 6 to 8 pm. The exhibition is on view through September 2.