Artist Spotlight: Owen Normand

In this editorial series Artsted is offering a dive into the stories of artists, taking them on a weekly discovery sprint: learn about the practice, process, philosophy and conceptual research behind the platform’s best contemporary creators.

Owen Normand, courtesy of the artist.

Hello! It is our pleasure to have a chat about your work as an artist. Could you tell the readers about yourself?

My name is Owen Normand, I am 36 years old, from a small town in the north of Scotland called Forres and I currently live in Edinburgh. I have been painting exclusively in oils for at least 10 years but have recently been experimenting with making paintings in acrylic.

In which moment did you realize you were an artist?

When I was 15 I entered a painting to be considered for an open exhibition. Not only did my painting get in but it was bought by the famous artist, John Byrne. From that moment I decided that if he saw something in my work then I definitely had what it takes to be an artist.

Exhibition view, courtesy of the artist.

Where do you work, do you have any particular ritual?

I am particularly inspired by contemporary figurative painting. I think that now is an especially exciting time in painting’s history and that there are many young artists who are pushing in fascinating new directions and challenging the boundaries of what painting can do today. Some days I feel more inspired than others but I like Chuck Close’s quote where he says: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” It reminds me that the most important thing is just to get in the studio and work. Inspiration may not come that day, but if it does then you are in the right place to make the most of it.

I have a studio at a studio complex in Edinburgh. My day in the studio will be quite different depending on what I am working on. I deliberately don’t have a ritual or a routine; I like to constantly make little changes to my artistic process in order to keep myself on my toes and keep my work fresh. I find some of my best work happens when I surprise myself. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the balance between consideration and spontaneity. My recent work is definitely leaning towards spontaneity.

I am always thinking about making paintings and if I don’t go to the studio for too long it makes me a bit crazy because I have a backlog of work bouncing around in my head. The only way to remedy that is for me to get the work down on canvas. When I see people respond strongly to my work it feels like some of the inspiration I have absorbed has been passed on and a cycle is completed.

Owen Normand, courtesy of the artist.

How would you define yourself as an artist?

I see painting as the way of making pictures that affords me the most freedom. I am interested in stylisation and simplification, but pure abstraction has never held any interest for me.

The one consistent theme that crops up in my work is impermanence. The people or objects in my paintings often hint towards the idea of constant change: it might be a wilting flower, fire, running water or simply somebody looking thoughtful. My images are always about a heightened awareness and bitter-sweet feeling that I find you get when you accept the impermanence of everything around you.

What inspires you?

I am really inspired by what I call the New-School Figurative Painting movement. Artists like Grace Weaver, Salman Toor, Lenz Geerk and Robin Francesca Williams are some of the most successful and exciting contemporary painters out there and they are all painting amazingly, dynamic and intriguing images that are highly relevant to what it feels like to be living in 2021. They are artists who are very aware of the rich heritage of figurative painting that they are drawing on, and yet they are not tied down by the weight of the past. They are able to develop their own individual visual languages and bring in influences from, for example, cartoons or pop culture but incorporate and present them in such a way that they are elevated to the status of fine art. I think a lot of the artists I mentioned look to what painters like Matisse and Bonnard were doing in the early part of the 20th century as a highpoint of stylised figuration and are picking up the baton to continue the race in a way that is relevant now. This excites me so much because when I was in art school figurative painting was really uncool and I was constantly put down and discouraged from pursuing the sort of work that I was interested in making. To see that this sort painting is on the rise again in the contemporary art world fills me with joy and motivates me to keep doing what I am doing.

Owen Normand, courtesy of the artist.

Tell us about a memorable experience you have had.

One of my most memorable responses to my work was John Byrne telling me that it had a sense of joie de vivre. Since then, my work has definitely become more sombre and contemplative and I very often get the response that my work evokes a sense of wonder and mystery. I find this extremely satisfying as this is a sign for me that a piece was successful and makes me think of Einstein’s quote: “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed’.

I certainly had some difficulties in art school, where I felt like lots of my tutors and peers saw me as a dinosaur because I wanted to paint pictures rather than focus on abstract or conceptual art. After art school I was a bit jaded and struggled with some of the pretentiousness that I saw in the art world and ended up taking a few years away from it. When I decided to get involved with art again I was more mature and I realised the importance of being able to talk and write about my work in an honest and considered way. I also think that the fashion in the art world started to move away from some of the absurd art-speak that had been so prevalent and try to make things more direct and relatable for its audience.

In the past I found it difficult to know where my work fits in the art world, but as the Gallerist Paul Klein said: “There is no such thing as the art world, there are lots of different art villages, you just need to find out which one you want to live in.” Realising this has helped me a lot and made me realise that I can make the sort of work I am passionate about and that there are galleries, collectors and other artists who share my passion.

How being in isolation -due to the pandemic — has affected you related to the art practice?

This last year of the pandemic has been so crazy. For me it has been a double-edged sword. At times it has felt like we are not living at all but just in some sort of strange hiatus, waiting for life to begin again. There have definitely been times where the feeling of ennui has sapped my inspiration and made it difficult for me to work. On the other hand, I have enjoyed a lot of time in the studio and I was lucky enough to be able to exhibit in both New York and London during 2020.

Owen Normand, courtesy of the artist.

How do you think more online presence could help you in your artistic career?

The main thing about having an online presence is being able to connect with collectors all over the world. I have work in private collections in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, The Netherlands, Belgium, USA, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. The other positive to having a good online presence is connecting with other painters that you admire and encouraging each other. When I get a compliment from another painter it means so much to me because I know they understand the struggle that I go through in order to make the work.

Holding out, 2021, Owen Normand.

Why should the audience/collectors be interested in your works? Is there a specific message you would like to spread?

Collectors should be interested in my work because figurative painting is back! I would like to see myself as part of a new wave of artists who are showing that painting no longer has to be dry and obscure — it can be thought-provoking, fun, deep, engaging, relevant, sexy and accessible.

If it is not a secret… Do you have any current or future projects in mind?

Although I hope to be exhibiting in places like Berlin and London again soon, I am really excited about the prospect of being part of the contemporary art scene in Scotland. After living in Berlin for years, I moved back to Scotland to start a family and lots of my artist peers have done the same. It now feels like there is a common sense there is room for new project spaces and galleries to emerge here, injecting more vibrance into the scene and showing collectors that you do not have to go to London to see cutting edge art in the UK.