LondonSikelela Owen - Steady Love
Taymour Grahne Projects presents Steady Love, a solo exhibition by London-based artist Sikelela Owen.
Owen’s Steady Love takes its name from India Arie’s 2019 song of the same title. The lyrics describe a love, a cut above the rest – in charm and tender devotion. This love is from a man who possesses an attractive balance between honest affection and understanding. This dynamic kinship empowers his loved one in a multidimensional way.
In these paintings, expressions of love and connectivity are realised in the seconds before the main events of intimacy and embrace. There are painted figures made up of curved limbs, shoulders that heed, and outstretched arms that knowingly contour to the shape of a cohort. These bodies are never quite separate, rarely angular; they are people, personalities, and faces that seldom exist without the physical presence or memory of another. Owen takes these figures from family photographs and stills, merging them with art historical references from the past and present.
In the song Steady Love the first verse ends with ‘He’s not afraid of his feelings, he’s not a slave to his pride.’ Here, love is realised in rare equilibrium, derived from a partner’s true sense of self. These ideas were particularly poignant around the time of Owen’s pregnancy with her son. When vulnerabilities and fears around Black masculinity were amplified in tandem with the unfolding events of George Floyd. In the paintings familial bonds providing a safe space are openly and generously depicted. To bring experiences that are usually behind closed doors out into the open is courageous and also deeply reassuring. It invites the viewer to entertain their own interpretations, along with Owen’s collections from everyday life, sparks from favourite songs and enduring visuals from music videos.
Whist partly autobiographical, the works are not limited to realism. There is fair scope for alternative histories to be imagined and explored. A reference point for Owen has been the Roman statues of God and heroic figures from antiquity seen during her 2019 residency in Italy. These statues were often made to honour ancestors of the past. In Owen’s case, stone has been substituted for oil paint, though the paintings are just as mighty in the scenes and context they depict. Like the ancient sculpture’s ability to represent real people and raise them up, Owen’s depictions of Black figures illuminate those previously consigned to the shadows of art history. Her work is actively becoming a part of the zeitgeist and the important renaissance in the painting of Black figures.
Sikelela Owen (b.1984,UK) is an artist living and working in London. Owen holds a postgraduate diploma in Fine Art from the Royal Academy and a BA Fine Art in Painting from Chelsea College of Art and Design. Recent solo exhibitions include at James Freeman Gallery (London), HSBC Canada Place (London) and NAM Project (Milan). Selected group shows include at Beer Galllery (London), Gesso Arts Space (Vienna), The Mall Gallery (London) and Charlie Smith (London). Awards and residencies include Elephant Lab, Dover Streets Arts club award, Richard Ford Award (Prado Museum travel and drawing award, Madrid) and Nichol Young Foundation Award.
Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne Projects, London