One of the first shows I curated at Abecedarian was one called Transparent/Opaque. Jan Owen (Belfast, Maine) was included in that exhibit. I’ve been curating her work into group shows ever since.
Jan is a featured artist in Hand Lettered, on view through December 17, 2011. Click here to link to her online catalog.
Jan’s calligraphic skill is remarkable, she has decades of hand-lettering experience. She is skillful at combining traditions in her field (the architectural blocks of early manuscripts for example), with aspects from other fields (as a musician herself, she understands rhythm as an integral part of calligraphic mark making), a love of poetry and literature (both traditions also rich with history and rhythm), and an ability to embrace traditional technique (18th century methods of creating patterns on paper) with materials of our era (she uses both Tyvek and Hollytek extensively). Her weaving of tinted Tyvek works particularly well for the seeds of Sunflower, pictured below.
What I find most engaging about the works on view at Abecedarian is her use of well chosen texts alongside compositional and letter forming skill in a presentation that invites a viewer into an intimate viewing experience. Many of her presentations are elegantly practical, such as her vertical accordion books that fold up nicely as books, that unfolded are installed as wall hangings.
In addition to richly painted surfaces providing background for her texts, Jan has started adding dimensional texture to these pieces, in the form of tinted and woven Tyvek. In other works Jan creates depth by layering Hollytex, a strong translucent synthetic.
My personal favorite in this exhibit is Brush Palimpsest, in part because it includes text by Octavio Paz. In this piece the many layers of translucent book pages add depth while maintaining a sense of intimate quietude. Brush Palimpsest has been purchased by University of Miami, Otto G. Richter Library, Special Collections.
She has taken the notion of layering to create layers of silence even further in the more recent piece Silence of the Night, a multi-layered wall hanging of translucent pages.