Artist Owen McAuley was born and raised in Cheney. Back then, he never considered art a calling, though later, when looking through boxes from his childhood, he found many awards he earned for his early artistic endeavors.
“I guess I always had the impulse to visually capture moments,” he says.
He went on to Spokane Falls Community College and then to Eastern Washington University, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. He then moved to Seattle where he entered a piece into an annual art show at the Center of Contemporary Art Gallery. His work tied for first place and caught the attention of Greg Escalante, co-founder of Juxtapoz Magazine, who wrote an article about the exhibition and mentioned Owen prominently. When asked why he didn’t lead with that bit of information—being featured in the pages of Juxtapoz, a feat that many artists aspire to—he says, “It’s not that I’m superstitious, but bragging might jinx my future. If I rehash it, it just might become the best thing that ever happened to me and, well, I aspire to something bigger,” adding that it really is about doing the right thing. In this case, it’s simply about continuing to do good work without all the bells and whistles.
The piece featured in Juxtapoz sold, and the exposure led to Owen’s involvement in Seattle’s rental and sales gallery at the museum. He stayed there for five years and then headed to Austin, Texas, where he received an MFA from the University of Texas and where one of his peers hooked him up with a good job in New York as a studio assistant to artist Robert Longo.
For the next 10 years, Owen was immersed in the art world in a city where art peppered every conversation—and where critics were appreciated. “There, traditional or repetitive works were frowned upon, leaving artists scrambling to stand out,” he says. “But trying to stand out counters the authenticity,” and Owen is all about authenticity; true stories about life and the simplicity of it in a moment he experiences and recalls like the corner of the ceiling where we’ve all been as our thoughts wander or the subtle ways light manipulates darkness on a frozen tundra or in an empty parking lot. “My work has always been, in some way or another, a response to whatever particular environment I find myself in, and more or less stylistically realistic,” he says.
An autoimmune disease mixed with alcohol put him in the hospital with time to think and sketch his thoughts. “Without trying to sound cliché, those were my darkest times, and my work reflects that darkness and the light that counters it,” he says. And so, from the bright lights of New York City, he returned to Cheney to recover. “It could have been the end of me,” he says. “But I’m an optimist.”
Over the years, he’s learned many things—including how many artists cater to consumers and pander to a sense of nostalgia—but he sees through that intent and aspires to stay genuine. “Good art is about removing the ego, which is a tough thing to do. I guess it’s good to get torn down once in a while; it gave me the opportunity to grow, to learn and to be more honest with myself. And here I am in the house I grew up in, starting all over again. It’s definitely an exercise in ego containment.”
Owen’s work is Zen-like; without bells or whistles; pure moments of reflection and simplicity, exquisitely executed in oil paint, charcoal, ink, conte or watercolor. Minimalistic at first glance, a second look brings forth the hint of action just around the corner, behind or within that tree or off in the distance where lights glow in the reflection of an animal’s eye, a covert or accidental meeting in the dead of night or just over that hill where the deep ruts lead. “My art mirrors my life, both which are nebulous; so many possibilities lurking just outside of the frame,” he says. “I aspire to make my next series of work better than the last.” owenmcauleyart.com