Robert Owen: A Book of Encounters is the first major monograph on one of Australia’s most eminent artists. Made in close collaboration with Owen (b. 1937) and his studio, this extensive volume assumes at once poetic, critical, historical and biographical modes in its unpacking of six decades of the artist’s archives, offering a comprehensive insight into a figure who has stood at the forefront of contemporary art since the 1960s.
The book not only examines Owen’s nomadic practice – spanning sculpture, painting, photography and installation – but traces through-lines from his early life in the regional Australian town of Wagga Wagga to Sydney, the Greek island of Hydra, London and Melbourne. In doing so, A Book of Encounters expands into Owen’s wider interests in philosophy, psychology, science, mathematics, music and literature.
The book features essays and texts from some of Australia’s leading writers, curators and artists, including Carolyn Barnes, Sue Cramer, Victoria Lynn, Pippa Milne, Robert Nelson, Alex Selenitsch, Mike Parr, Leslie and Miriam Stein, and Angela Connor. It is designed by Stuart Geddes, Paul Mylecharane and Kim Mumm Hansen of Public Office.
Robert Owen was born in Sydney in 1937, and studied sculpture at the National Art School, Sydney under Lyndon Dadswell. After graduating from art school in 1962, Owen lived on the Greek isle of Hydra from 1963–66 and became part of an expatriate community that included George Johnston, Charmian Clift, William Lederer, Leonard Cohen, and Jack Hirschman.
From 1966 –75 Owen lived in London where he worked as a studio assistant to John Ernest, Anthony Hill and other well-known British Constructionists, and also as a conservator for Victor Pasmore and Ben Nicholson. During this time Owen developed constructionist works and exhibited with Marlborough Gallery in both London and New York and was awarded a John Moore’s Liverpool Exhibition 7 UK prize in 1969.
In 1975 Owen returned to Australia and became actively involved in Sydney’s art culture, both as an artist, representing Australia at the 38th Venice Biennale in 1978; and as a founding member of Artspace and as a member of The Biennale of Sydney. In 1987 Owen moved to Melbourne as artist in residence at the Victorian College of the Arts.
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.
ince the early 1990s he has returned to the topographical abstraction of colour, space and light through painting and sculpture. From the early 2000s, Owen has also undertaken Public Art commissions that have extended his installation practice in a broader social context of placemaking.
Owen has received major design awards for public commissions including Webb Bridge, Melbourne, in collaboration with architects Denton Corker Marshall.
Robert Owen: A Book of Encounters is published by Perimeter Editions to coincide with the survey exhibition Blue Over Time: Robert Owen – A Survey at Heide Museum of Modern Art: 6 March – 23 May 2021.
Image: Robert Owen: A Book of Encounters – courtesy of Perimeter Editions