Menzies Art Brands



[My work] also attempts to embody a sense of presence; it gives a direct experience to the viewer it is always that direct relationship you have with the viewer that causes something to stir.1

Robert Owens Afternoon Glow #2 harmoniously records the colour gamut of one afternoon. It is sunset where light, colour, and shadow become supersensitive to its environment; shadows stretch and rebound like elastic, colours morph, scatter, and gradate; temperatures shift, all whilst the sun accelerates towards the horizon line. Owen arranges opaque swatches of synthetic polymer paint into a grid to capture this fleeting moment, using primarily a spectrum of oranges, yellows, blues, and greens. The grid structure allows the picture to be read from different points of entry, contingent upon the individuals own optical predispositions. It can be followed along the fourteen horizontal or vertical sequences of colour, absorbed as a totality, or scrutinised closely between the modular cells. For Rosalind Krauss, the grid maps the surface of the painting itself which extends, in all directions, to infinity.2

Since the late 1960s Owen has exhibited a deep, multi-disciplinary interest in the underlying scientific, philosophical, and emotional qualities of light, geometric abstraction, and colour theory. He has explored these relationships across painting, installation, architecture, photography, and sculpture. He represented Australia in the 1978 Venice Biennale and has had numerous survey exhibitions dedicated to his work, most recently at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Victoria in 2020. Public commissions, acquisitions, and awards have been granted nationally and internationally to his large-scale paintings, murals, and steel sculpture.

The grid is one of the twentieth centurys major declarations of modern art and Owen has spent a lifetime dedicated to this mandate. This inquiry leapt forward in the early 1990s with his Origami series, inspired by colourful origamis he bought in Singapore. In these painted grids of sixteen units, we can envision the origami being delicately unfolded, returning to its original two-dimensional form. His acclaimed Hypercube series follows a parallel path but in material reverse: they are rather steel, linear sculpture inspired by fourth-dimensional tesseracts that complexly fold out, collapse inwards, and entangle simultaneously.

Afternoon Glow #2 was included in Owens Text of Light solo exhibition of paintings and sculpture at TarraWarra Museum of Art in 2003-04. The rule-based paintings documented varying spans of time days, weeks, or months with Owen journalling emotions through colour entries signified by each pixel. Through associative synaesthesia, the artist instinctively links chains of experiences to a corresponding colour. Its immersive scale and endless permutations of colour engulf the body, granting the viewer a reflective space. An afternoon is clearly implied in this mosaic of sunset and twilight hues; however, Owens personal rhythms and sense of time are also cryptically embedded in this system. A beholder might speculate upon the significance of each colour, the logic of their arranged order, and emotional skew. How might these delineate a certain feeling, location, or moment in time for the artist? This is their inward content.

1. Owen, R., quoted in Museum of Contemporary Art: Artist Voice Interview Series, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (accessed May 2023):
2. Krauss, R., Grids, October, Summer 1979, vol.9, pp.51-64 (accessed online May 2023):

Tim Marvin
Tim Marvin is an emerging curator and art historian based in Sydney. He has a Bachelor of Art Theory (Honours, First Class) from the University of New South Wales, and currently holds the position of gallery registrar at Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.