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Take a Walk Down Memory Lane with Jennifer Owen

By HeatherLyn Gray
On April 29, 2012

Nestled in the art building and just a few steps up from a sea of eager students, Jennifer Owen's office is a clear reflection of the down-to-earth, warm, and enthusiastic art teacher. From the collection of ceramic pieces displayed throughout the room, to the fine layer of dust enveloping just enough clutter to make a space feel lived in, and the odd-man-out orange chair that she offered up, Owen's office was the perfect setting for a one-on-one interview discussing her retrospective exhibit currently on display at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center.

Q: So, what exactly is going on at the Hui?

Owen: "I think this is probably every artist's dream... that before they die they might have the opportunity to show the breadth of their artistic creation from when they first started all the way to the present day. I was so thrilled when the Hui Exhibit Committee asked me if I would do a retrospective show."

For those of us not up to speed with art lingo-a "retrospective" is a show where an artist gets to display pieces that span from their early days to the present. Owen's oldest piece in the show comes from her 1974 senior exhibit at Princeton University. "Someday, maybe you'll have a retrospective exhibit and you'll need this piece," said Owen's instructor and mentor Toshiko Takaezu upon returning the piece nearly a decade ago. Takaezu was one of the interesting and curious teachers that Owen had the opportunity to learn from after immediately switching her college major from biology to art after her first pottery class.

"I fell in love with ceramics," said Owen.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Owen: "I was initially inspired by nature-most pieces definitely had a relation to organic form inspired by plants. I would look around and see things in nature and thought 'nobody could ever make something that beautifully.' It was an inspiration to strive for that kind of balance and detail."

Owen still draws upon nature, but her current path (which she's been on for the last six years) has her  looking more at architecture and most of her forms look like buildings.

"I look at the buildings in a city or a town in the way I look at trees in the country."

Immune to "island fever," Owen doesn't travel a lot. "I love it here and I don't feel the need to go someplace, but I do love to visit museums and see shows. When I get an opportunity that takes me in that direction, it's hard to resist." Owen has gone places specifically to seek out buildings that feed her love of great architecture. Admiring the work of architect Frank Gehry, Owen has been influenced by the Guggenheim Museum and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Most of her work is sculptural rather than functional, and, although she does pottery at the same time as sculpture, she considers her most important work to be those that are not functional, but sculptural. Owen also prefers to work in series, getting an idea and making several pieces that relate to that idea and to each other.

Q: What do you like to do outside of art?

Owen: "I love to garden." Filled with pride and accomplishment, Owen named off each type of fruit tree she has growing in her half-acre-sized orchard at her Ha'ikÅ residence. " I spend a lot of time taking care of my gardens and picking fruit off my trees." She loves sharing fruits and vegetables with her friends and students.

"I also love to swim." Owen fell in love with the ocean when she came to Hawai'i in the early 1980s, in search of warmer weather, from the East Coast.

"Jennifer Owen: A Retrospective" continues until Friday, May 4 and is free to the public. The gallery is located at 2841 Baldwin Avenue in Makawao and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Owen has been an instructor at UHMC for 16 years. She previously taught at the Hui for 24 years and served as head of their ceramics department.

Interested in taking classes with Jennifer Owen? In addition to teaching art courses on the UHMC campus, she will be teaching ceramics classes at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center this summer. For more information visit www.huinoeau.com and check out the UHMC Fall 2012 schedule of classes available on campus and online.


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