Robert Owen


ROBERT OWEN is one of Australia’s most eminent artists, with continued relevance to the forefront of contemporary art practice since the late 1960s. He has played a formative role in the development of some of Australia’s major arts education and institutional structures and has received several of the nation’s highest honours in the visual arts. Owen’s art practice includes sculpture, installation, painting, photography and major public commissions. His work is linked through a poetic and intuitive sensitivity to the expressive potential of space, light, colour, context and materials.

Owen lived on the Greek isle of Hydra from 1963 to 1966, a formative period in his practice, and became part of an expatriate community that included George Johnston, Charmian Clift, William Lederer, Leonard Cohen and Jack Hirschman. From 1966 – 1975 Owen lived in London where he worked as a studio assistant to John Ernest, Anthony Hill and other British Constructionists, and also as a conservator for Victor Pasmore and Ben Nicholson. During this time Owen developed constructionist works and exhibited with Malborough Gallery in both London and New York.

In 1975 Owen returned to Australia and became actively involved in the Sydney art culture, both as an artist, representing Australia at the 38th Venice Biennale in 1978; and as a Founding Member of Artspace and Member of The Biennale of Sydney. Upon his return to Australia, Owen’s art practice shifted focus to Site-specific and Installation art concerned with concept and expanded sense experience, adding layers of metaphysical and symbolic narrative to cultural history (1975-1992). From 1989 to 2001 Owen was Associate Professor and Head of Sculpture at RMIT University, where he implemented a graduate and postgraduate exchange programme with Utrecht School of the Arts and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam. 

Since the early 1990s he has returned to the topographical abstraction of colour, space and light through painting and sculpture (1992- ). Owen's experience as a curator of contemporary art includes Sound Works for the 1982 Biennale of Sydney and the exhibition Inland for the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne in 1990. Since the early 2000s, Owen has also undertaken Major public Art commissions that have extended his installation practice in a broader social context including: Under the Sun for Point Cook Town Centre, Melbourne, in 2014; Silence and Falling Light for Arts Centre Melbourne; Tracing Light - For Harry 3D/4D for Harry’s Park, Harry Seidler Architects Sydney in 2011; New Constellation (sculpture) and Interlude - Double Weave (painting) for the MLC Centre, Harry Seidler Architects, Sydney in 2007; Melbourne’s Northern Gateway, Craigieburn Bypass with Architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer for VIC Roads Hume Freeway Development, Victoria in 2004; Memory Pond, fountain, light and text installation for Grattan Gardens Plaza, Prahran, Melbourne in 2001; Discobolus, Hellenic Tribute, a sculpture installation for Olympic Park, Homebush Bay, Sydney 2000 Olympics; Axiom, a sculpture installation for the New Commonwealth Law Courts, Melbourne in 1998; Vessel, a public sculpture for the Nippon Exhibition Centre, Chiba, Japan in 1989 and Webb Bridge,Docklands, Melbourne in collaboration with DCM architects in 2003, for which Robert Owen and DCM Architects were awarded the prestigious Joseph Reed Architectural award for urban design in 2005.

Group exhibitions include: Another Dimension, McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery, 2018; Photographic Abstractions, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, 2012; Contemporary Australia: Optimism, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2008; New Acquisitions in Context, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2005; A History of Happiness, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2002; Geometric Abstraction in Australia 1941-1997, University Art Museum, University of Queensland, 1997; Spirit and Place: Art in Australia 1861-1996, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1996-7. 

Solo exhibitions include: Afterglow, Latrobe Regional Gallery, 2017-18, Different Lights Cast Different Shadows,The 2nd Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004; The Text of Light, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, 2004; Between Shadow and Light – London Works 1966-1975 Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1999.

Robert Owen is represented in public and private collections throughout Australia as well as in the British Museum, London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Olympic Sculpture Park, Seoul, Korea and the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan. Owen received in 2003 the Australian Council Visual Arts/Crafts Emeritus Award for a lifelong service to the visual arts. 

Major references for Robert Owen are George Alexander, Zara Stanhope & Wayne Tunnicliffe: Robert Owen; Different Lights Cast Different Shadows, published by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2004. Margaret Plant & Carolyn Barnes: Between Shadow & Light; London Works 1966 - 1975, published by Monash University Gallery in 1999 and George Alexander: Robert Owen, Transits, published by Wagga Wagga City Art Gallery in 1988.