By Alexander Nixon, Managing Arts Editor
This week Dallas Owens is putting the finishing touches on artwork he plans to show the MFA review panel this Friday, culminating an enterprising first year as an MFA at Brooklyn College.
He arrived at Brooklyn College a year ago fully aware the facilities would not allow him to continue making plastic the molds and models he churned out as a BFA at Miami University in Ohio. The facilities here lack the proper drainage and filtration for realizing his 3-D lambs in tuxedos splattered with disarming pink paint.
Taking a cue from the outside world, he outsourced his mold making, but not until exhaustively exploring the possibilities within the constraints of BC’s MFA facilities.
This 2012-13 exploration included oil and acrylics rendered on carpet, an epic-scale triptych, and various paint splattered polar bears and cartoonish lambs.
Disarming is the best word to describe Owens’ artwork.
The disarmament operates on several formal levels. The first and most startling is the element of taxidermy in his work. Like Rauchenberg’s infamous “Canyon” (1959), Owens incorporates stuffed animals in his artwork, mutilating them with paint and appropriating their every-day, not-art signification to confuse and, yes, disarm.
Like Rauchenberg’s bald eagle, of whose symbolic connection to the USA one need no convincing, Owens’ polar bear is much more than Duchampian DaDa. Like many other elements in Owens’ artwork, the polar bear is a stand-in for innocence and violence.
No other animal encapsulates the collective and anonymous terror inflicted by society on the natural world. We may write checks to non-profit organizations in hopes of “saving the polar bear,” but we all know the fossil fuels consumed by sending such a letter will only shrink further that tiny sliver of ice float upon which the stranded polar bear stands as the temperature heats up.
Like Owens’ polar bear, the lamb has become a stand-in for innocence and violence. In the case of the lamb, another major surrogate element in his work, Owens opted for an animated cartoon representation.
“Diamond Dallas” (2012) depicts a lamb wielding a knife. The title, “Diamond Dallas,” indicates we are looking at a self-portrait of the artist. This cartoon lamb is the most prevalent character in the work Owens executed this year. Why is he holding a knife? Is he a sacrificial lamb? Are we?
Owens joined the Brooklyn College MFA program immediately after earning his BFA.
One can expect the prospect of entering the real world to provoke feelings of being a lamb on one’s way to the slaughter, especially when one’s creative output is as intricately linked to one’s conscience, as is the case with artist Dallas Owens.
Visiting Owens’ studio is kind of like visiting the “Life Underground” (2001, Tom Otterness) installation at the 8th Avenue 14th St. subway station. There, one will find numerous bronze cartoon-like figures throughout the station. Like Owens’ characters, the bronze figures are adorable. Also like Owens’ work, they are often up to no good, in one case an alligator attacks a bronze pedestrian and tugs him into the abyss beneath a manhole cover.
Owens’ bio states, “his recent work explores the dark side of the human condition with figurative mash ups that refer to an increasingly short public attention span and an indifference to social misfortune.”
His work itself is anything but indifferent. By highlighting the profane aspects of society, he compels us to reassess what is sacred to us.