The young Canadian painter Owen Rival, born in 1999, presents a selection of medium and large format paintings at the MONTI8 gallery in Latina that portray the artist and his wife in everyday life scenes. These intimate moments marked by banal actions aimed at maintaining order in the daily routine identify an ambiguous comfort zone on the verge of exploding into an almost pathological dimension, which is a sign of a precarious mental balance. The exhibition title alludes to a habitual protocol of apparently “neutral” behaviors through which the protagonists, like all of us in our daily lives, try to stem their persistent existential anxieties and to maintain control of the situation. To learn more about the subject, we had the pleasure of asking the artist a few questions.
Camilla Pappagallo: After a period of partial eclipse of figurative painting, more and more young painters today choose to express themselves through this language. What do you think are the specificities of this new and widespread realistic current that you too have embraced?
Owen Rival: Personally, figurative art has always appealed to me. As a viewer, it was the kind of art that I connected to instantly because I could see the stories and specific narratives through the characters. As an artist, being able to depict reality was always a goal of mine and I loved working on that skill until I could not just depict reality, but depict my reality. The approachable, storytelling aspect of figurative art is, in my opinion, its greatest strength, but also maybe the reason it dipped in popularity. Figurative paintings have been around for so long I can see how artists felt like there was nothing else they could say using figurative work. However, after a long absence and the resulting gap in depictions of the modern world, I think it has become obvious that figurative art has many more stories to tell.
The paintings on display at MONTI8 portray you and your wife in daily moments in which anyone can relate. From which intuitions does the idea of interpreting everyday life as a ritual come about?
These paintings come from my habit of viewing my life from an external perspective as well as being a creature of habit in general. After getting married and being in Houston, I established new routines and I began to notice the significance of my small daily tasks. I wanted to share the appreciation I had grown for my daily routine by isolating and amplifying these moments.
Some subtle deformations of the represented objects and the localized color changes towards sulphurous or ardent tones reveal an almost hallucinatory state of mind, which constitutes the emotional background of all the scenes. What are the existential anxieties that are exorcised by painting?
That’s a really insightful question. I was having trouble with my mental health in the first few months of creating this show, especially when I was creating the piece, “Sleep.” I have always been someone who falls asleep immediately when going to bed, but in the weeks leading up to making “Sleep,” I would lie awake at night because I was feeling so anxious. My anxiety wasn’t attached to a particular topic, but instead was a constant gnawing feeling that would jump and cling to anything in my life that felt out of my control. It was affecting my life so much I felt that I couldn’t make a painting about anything else. While I was making “Sleep”, the lack of my own sleep started to make my anxiety even worse and I felt stuck in an eerily quiet nightmarish state. My only relief was when I was painting because it required my full attention, so I really feel like the painting took on this feeling for me in those hours I was creating it. In the final days of me creating “Sleep” I started taking antidepressants and once I finished the painting, I was finally able to sleep again. The contrast I felt was so amazing, I created the painting “Meds” afterwards as both a ‘thank you’ note to the medication and to the paintings for granting me solace.
Do you think that the evoked ritual “cure” can turn into a disease as chronic as the discomfort it tries to stem?
Everything must be in moderation and it’s important to turn to the right source to fix our problems. For example, while I do feel that painting helped me with my anxiety when I wasn’t able to sleep, the “cure” for me was medication since the source of my anxiety was a chemical imbalance. I know that if I had just painted all day and night to avoid my anxieties, I would have destroyed my relationship with art by trying to misuse it as a “cure” for my discomforts. For others, the source of their discomfort is likely different so the answer is different as well. If their source of discomfort is a bin full of dirty laundry, then a healthy routine of doing laundry is definitely a good thing. But, if the source of discomfort is not something directly solved by the routine, then that routine can turn into an unhealthy and addicting distraction from finding a real answer to the problem.
Could you tell us something more about your creative method and its possible relationship, in procedural or aesthetic terms, with instant photography?
My creative process starts with a sketch, and from there, my wife and I use the sketch to take the reference photos. There is an art in creating the photo itself, but as a painter, I use the photos more as a suggestion of a path I could take to create the painting instead of direct instructions. Painting as a process is similar to instant photography in that both convert reality into a permanent two-dimensional surface, but their strengths and weaknesses differ. Painting allows for unlimited freedom, but the unlimited possibilities can also be a weakness. Photography is bound by reality, which on its own is a boundary that I dislike, but in conjunction with painting, is an amazing strength. The two mediums balance each other’s weaknesses, so while I am, of course, biased towards painting, photography is a powerful tool I use to create my work.
Owen Rival. Chronic Maintenance
29/04/2023 – 13/05/2023
via V. Monti 8, Latina
Graduated in contemporary art, has been working in collaboration with various contemporary art galleries, private foundations, art centers in Italy and abroad.