SEKA OWEN: A Retrospective 1980-Present
Collectors’ Gallery, Calgary
April 18 to May 4, 2015
By Jeffrey Spalding
"Morgana Series #8"
Seka Owen, "Morgana Series #8," 2014, acrylic on canvas, 31” x 21.5”.
Organizing solo survey exhibitions was once the special domain of public art museums. Over the past few years, commercial galleries have taken an increasing leadership role in chronicling and celebrating the achievements of important contributors to our aesthetic community. The Collectors’ Gallery has a commendable history of acting in this educational capacity. Recently, it presented a 35-year overview of the career of Seka Owen. Born in Croatia, Owen switched her allegiance from science to art later in life, studying as a mature student at the University of Alberta in the 1970s.
"New Visions #V"
Seka Owen, "New Visions #V," 1996, acrylic on canvas, 37.5” x 45”.
Her works have been exhibited widely and collected by significant private and corporate collectors, as well as included in the principal public agency collections of Edmonton.
In recognition of her varied and accomplished series of creations, she was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy and the Alberta Society of Artists.
"New Visions #1"
Seka Owen, "New Visions #1," 1998, acrylic on canvas, 42” x 67”.
As this exhibition attests, she has been a prolific and dedicated artist, exploring many subjects, media and stylistic approaches: florals, still lifes, pictographs and more. Viewers will have their personal preferences.
Yet central to Owen’s development and her identity as an artist is her long and significant engagement with formalism. As she studied and emerged as an admired exhibiting artist, Edmonton and the University of Alberta were hotbeds of activity, exploration and commitment to modernist abstraction. Owen served in the education program of the Art Gallery of Alberta, bringing this message to countless students. It is in the arena of abstraction that she has made her most compelling works. Over a 35-year period (the past 15 in Calgary) her touch and approach have evolved, reflecting changing attitudes and postures.
"Field of Activity"
Seka Owen, "Field of Activity," 1997, acrylic on canvas, 38.5” x 66.75”.
She shares many areas of interest with a generation of a school of thought. We detect many knowing references to the admired post-Second World War art legends that inspired her own inquiries. Personally, I suggest a number of standout works by Owen can proudly take their place as part of this noble legacy. Among them, I commend Night Visions #V, a comparatively modest-sized painting from 1996 that packs a powerful visual punch. Many of her works juggle transparency and opacity as a method to construct a painting. This one orchestrates a wonderful balance; a radiant glowing-blue underpainting that predominates the majority of the surface is augmented by joyously vibrant and confident opaque counterpoints. While large, visually dynamic paintings have predominated, the small pastel, Grand Forks, 1987, is a sensitively handled work that shows great graphic flair and vibrancy of spirit. Full marks to the Collectors’ Gallery for bringing recognition to the qualities of Owen’s works.