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June 30, 2021

Abstraction: An Introduction to the Art of Robert Owen

The Australian artist’s diverse career has spanned many media, from painting and photography to public sculpture and architectural installations.

Born in Sydney in 1937 and raised in the regional city of Wagga Wagga, Robert Owen is one of Australia’s most eminent artists. Drawing on his lifelong curiosity for topics as varied as nature, mathematics, and representations of emotions, Owen has used a range of materials to create abstract pieces that speak to the nature of the universe.

In all forms, Owen’s works play with the expressive potential of space, light, and colour. His paintings typically consist of square and rectangular blocks of bright hues, exploring how their juxtaposition can evoke wonder and represent different emotions. For Cadence #1 (a short span of time) (2003), Owen painted a new square every day in a colour that reflected his mood for that morning, building a graph of his inner self across the eight-metre-long canvas. Owen further explored shape and pattern in several sculptures, including Axiom (1999) and Sutra #4 (2019). In many of these pieces, steel poles form intricate geometric models to embody ideas of natural laws and organic formation. Much of his portfolio uncovers the poetry that inhabits the different orders of the world by representing them through abstract forms.


Some of his less angular public installations deal with the passage of time and the convergence of the traditional and the modern. The Webb Bridge (2003), used by pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Birrarung (Yarra River) at Docklands in Melbourne, was inspired by the weaving patterns of Koori eel traps, while the Discobolus (2000) sculpture at Olympic Park celebrating the Sydney Olympics combines the shapes of an ancient Greek discus and a modern CD. Although his overall collection is diverse, Owen’s work is characterised by a sense of minimalism and a drive to make sense of everything around him.

Now 83 years old, Owen continues to create awe-inspiring and thought-provoking pieces. A selection of Owen’s new paintings and sculptural installations, as well as some of his classic pieces from the 1960s and 70s, is currently on display at Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition, called Blue Over Time: Robert Owen – A Survey, is set to close in just over a week, so if you want to enjoy his art in person, you’ll have to get in quick.

If you enjoyed this article, you’re sure to like our reflection on Australian ink artist Joy Hester, whose work was also recently exhibited at the Heide Museum.

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