Laura Owens: Brushes with Greatness

One of eight women artists who are storming the boys’ club.

Laura Owens

“I like fighting my way through, not knowing what I’m going to do,” says Laura Owens, who has never been afraid to push the limits of what a painting might be or how it might impact the viewer. Whether dipping in and out of the history of painting, using collage, charcoal, or oil paint on her canvases, or referencingsources like textile patterns, personal ads, or Peanutscartoons, Owens stitches together a crazy quilt of associations and allusions. “She’s like a Dr. Frankenstein,” says MoMA curator Laura Hoptman. “She takes bodies from other pieces of work and puts them together to create a whole new monster.”

Owens, 44, who has eight assistants at her studio in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, prefers to be “randomly influenced,” she says, by things they say or find as they experiment with the different materials she gives them. Next door is 356 S. Mission Road, the stand-alone warehouse–turned–exhibition space she runs, where, in 2013, she showed 12 gigantic canvases and hosted workshops for kids and film screenings. Whether composed by hand or with computers, painted with silk screens or brushes, her riotously inventive works commanded the space with their bravado and pops of color. In Untitled (to be included in “The Forever Now”), the paint seems to hover above the linen thanks to a trompe l’oeil shadow. Owens will have other pieces in the MoMA show as well, but three months before the opening, she had yet to make them. “I have no idea,” she said when pressed to describe what she had in mind. “I try not to have any habits. If I’ve done something, I try to do something else.”