Lychee One proudly presents Dreaming of UFOs, a new body of work by painter James Owens. Through psychologically charged expressions of emotional states, the artist’s paintings of luminous nocturnal scenes suggest the power of mystery and anticipation. The show’s title draws on Owens’ experiences of following online communities of UFO watchers. In reading accounts of UFO sightings, he has been struck by how the descriptions of encounters are often authentically sincere and enthusiastic; the emotion invested in the narratives could not be invented. Following a path of curious enquiry, Owens has come to see UFOs as symbols of contemporary mythology and as vehicles for storytelling.
Dreaming of UFOs imagines someone who spends their life hoping to be abducted by aliens; waiting for something to snatch them out of their everyday life or to come in and change how they live. Through this motif, the show speaks to the ubiquitous hope for a deus ex machina solution to humanity’s problems. Owens questions the futility of waiting forever for something that will likely never happen; but his work also hints at the hopeful possibility that if you look hard enough, you might eventually find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Owens’ serene, atmospheric paintings suggest the importance of seeking out the mysterious in contemporary life, embracing the power of the unknown, the uncertain, and the unprovable. The works point to a process of re-enchantment through openness, aspiration, and connection with the more-than-human world. Many of the works combine human elements with motifs borrowed from other species: plants dance with gestured reminiscent of human body language; a woman lies in the clutches of a mythologised swan and a bed of thorns; a figure merges into hybridity with a giant pumpkin like something from a fairytale. Owens challenges our tendency to overlook the lives of plants and animals, expressing a notion of the human body as nature, interwoven with the ecosystems of which it is a part.
The paintings also feature references to the artist’s autobiography and family history, drawing on memories to craft an imaginative world of unexpected juxtapositions. The works evoke a state of active, vivid dreaming, exploring the idea of visions as an alternative way of experiencing reality. Owens achieves this in part through his repeated depictions of nocturnal moonlit scenes. The artist uses a thin wash of blue acrylic as a base for each night work, realising a luminous or even backlit effect through the contrast created by subsequent thin layers of paint in darker tones used to build up details, figures, and landscapes. The images recall the blurring effect that darkness has on the vision. Colours and shapes are distorted at night, the eyes play tricks, and shadows appear to conjure dark figures out of nothing; meanwhile, the other senses are heightened, prompting intense responses that are unsettlingly unfamiliar.
These nocturnal images also offer a parallel to the artist’s creative practice; most of the works are not meticulously pre-planned, but rather Owens embraces the process of exploration through painting – as though he is feeling his way through the dark to arrive at his images of half-sinister beauty and fantastical dreaming.
Text by Anna Souter