Laura Owens (b. 1970) was raised in suburban Norwalk, Ohio, earned her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and pursued her graduate studies at CalArts in Los Angeles, where she has lived since 1992. She gained a critical following in the late 1990s for paintings in which she playfully combined modernist abstractions with figurative elements and historical references. Since that time, she has repeatedly proven her versatility as a painter by creating ever-more complex compositions and increasing the scale of her canvases.
In the spring of 2000, Laura Owens spent a month at the Gardner working and living in the Carriage House apartment set behind the Museum, among the gardens and greenhouses. She divided her time between reading, studying the collection, painting in a studio at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and bicycling around Boston.
During her residency, Owens had the opportunity to closely examine works in the collection. She was particularly drawn to the Museum’s collection of Japanese screens as well as textiles. These included several examples of cut velvet fabrics, embroideries, and a 19th-century Japanese silk kimono with a painting of a badger looking at the moon. Owens incorporated this scene into a large painting that was later shown in her 2001 exhibition Laura Owens: New Work. Other imagery from the collection found its way into the ten works on view in the gallery, including an embroidered panel with the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire and crown of the Hapsburg family, and the pen-and-ink drawing Christ Embracing John the Baptist, ca. 1503-04, by Filippino Lippi, which is in the Short Gallery. Owens also installed a pair of silk Chinese chair covers embroidered with elephants and birds in silk yarns in a space adjacent to the gallery.
Laura Owens is known for her artist books. These range from monographic booklets to extensive exhibition catalogues. At the Gardner, she created a book, Laura Owens: New Work at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in conjunction with her exhibition that weaves together images of her work, original illustrations, and photographs, with texts by Pieranna Cavalchini, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art, and curators Russell Ferguson and Jennifer Gross.
Since the late 2000s, Owens has moved away from more figurative works to create large, abstract, layered canvases in bold colors and patterns. In 2013, she turned her studio workspace into an exhibition space called 356 Mission, which she closed in 2018. Her work has been featured in several solo shows, including a mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York where she experimented with making installation works with two-sided paintings. Owens’s work is in many private collections and has been shown at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Carnegie Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center; the Kunsthalle Basel; Tate Modern; and the Inverleith House, Edinburgh, among other places.