Edward Owens

Thursday October 3 through

Monday, November 04

Flaxman Library Special Collections Exhibition Cases
37 S. Wabash Ave.
Sharp Building, 5th Floor

edward owens exhibition is happening october 3 through november 4

Edward Owens (1949-2009), a queer, African-American artist from the South Side of Chicago is primarily known for his contribution to the experimental film movement of the 1960s. His works on 8mm and 16mm are brimming with meanderings, flickerings, and intimate portraits that recall an elegant pasting and placing of layered imaginaires. Until recently, such depictions were thought to be the exclusive purview of his films. On view in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection exhibition cases is evidence that not only was Owens’ art more expansive than his few films, but that the narrative of his career merits reconsideration and reimagining to include these vibrant archival materials.

Owens attended SAIC in the 1960s with the intent to study painting and sculpture. However, he was soon swept up in the school’s budding film department. His films were particularly well received by renowned film faculty member Gregory Markopoulos. Accounts vary, but perhaps at Markopoulos’ urging, Owens left for New York to study beyond the bounds of the institution. 

During his time in New York, Owens lived with acclaimed film critic Parker Tyler and poet-filmmaker Charles Boltenhouse. Owens’ sheer talent, his romantic involvement with Boltenhouse, and his proximity to the heart of 1960s New American Cinema made this era in Owens’ life a peak of artistic output. However, in the early 1970s, for unforeseen circumstances (accounts include issues with addiction, self diagnosed mental illness, and a breakup with Boltenhouse) Owens returned to his Chicago home and ceased making work. This is where the narrative has ended for many years: a rapid turn from prodigy to footnote.

In late 2019, Beth Hobby went to an antique shop in Morris, IL where the owner had recently purchased the contents of a building which had storage units in Chicago. The proprietor was scrapping a number of items from one of these units, including an assortment of vibrant collages. These composed bits of magazine photographs and gestural drawing caught Hobby’s eye. She offered $10 for the collection. The proprietor said, "Thanks. It'll save me a trip to the dump." Because of Hobby’s foresight and generosity, these are the works now on view.

In addition to these collages, an extensive file in the New York Public Library houses correspondence from Owens to Boltenhouse after he had moved back to Chicago and reportedly stopped making work. This file is full of expressive writing, of plans for more films, and of small collages, done with the same care and stunning composition as his cinematic work.

Owens’ artistic career did not end when he left New York to return to Chicago. He continued creating. We are honored to show the evidence of his continued creative work for the first time, so close to where Owens began his expansive education. This is not a narrative of recovery, or of rediscovery. It is the rendering of Owens’ own work where fragments are precious portrayals of artistic vision in and of themselves. In the words of Markopoulos, even after his death, Owens continues to “...leave us breathless with anticipation for his next work.”