Robert Owen wears many hats. Not just idiomatically, but literally, the artist has a true penchant for hats. Across the last nearly six decades, Owen has diversified across painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and public art and architectural commissions. Whilst his practice is widespread, he has maintained a devotion to geometry and abstraction inspired by philosophy, psychology, science, mathematics, music and literature.
Robert Owen arrived in Hydra, Greece, in 1963 as one of a group of travellers and expats where he would spend the next three years. It was here he witnessed an eclipse of the sun and the spectrum of colour resulting. This was a pivotal moment for Owen, and he sought to recreate this light and colour henceforth.
“What I came to England with was the ‘eclipse of the sun’ effects from Hydra. There were scientific expeditions to see the solar eclipse on the nearby islands that year and I observed the atmosphere act like a prism that caused the sun’s rays to break into spectral bands. There was a great clarity and I could see shadows with different colours. It made me look at light and refraction and it reminded me of the physics of colour I had learnt in first-year art school and a whole series of works came from that.” (The Artist, interviewed by George Alexander in 2004)
Owen’s works utilise a recurring palette of vibrant tones across the colour spectrum. His use of colour not only relates back to natural and scientific phenomena but also synaesthesia. The senses are connected, and similarly to Kandinsky and the Theosophists, Owen’s use of colour stimulates one sense whilst also involuntarily affecting another.
Science and mathematics are closely linked to Owen’s art practice, often beginning with once core concept or idea. His grid paintings, for example, display a Rubik’s Cube of colours stemming from coloured origami papers he bought in Singapore. Taking inspration from these, he then considered a mathematical calculation of grid possibilities, and working with a PhD student in the 1990s, Robert was able to determine over one million and a half variations. Robert’s sculptures draw upon Euclidian geometry. His significant commission for the National Australia Back, “Shadow Play – Fourth Constellation” 2011, for example, is based on the geometry of the hypercube – the four-dimensional figure of the cube within the cube. The hypercube has sixteen corners, thirty-two edges, twenty-four square faces and eight cubes. Using the construction of the hypercube, Robert has created numerous sculptures across his career.
Robert Owen’s ability to traverse multiple mediums and fuse together concepts of science, mathematics, abstraction and geometry has enabled his practice to be enjoyed across many dimensions. His works are constantly refining, exploring and challenging existing notions whilst adapting to new information and discoveries, both within the artworld and beyond.
Olivia Fuller / Head of Art
Banner Image: ROBERT OWEN (born 1937) Origami Series #6ZR 1992, synthetic polymer paint on canvas | Sold for $11,250