Alice Owen: Painting, and finding wonder in small things

By Brian Soergel | Aug 05, 2016
Photo by: Brian Soergel Alice Owen’s “San Miguel” is part of a retrospective on the artist’s work through Sept. 14 at the Frances Anderson Center.
Alice Owen retrospective
When: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Through Sept. 14.
Where: Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation gallery at the Frances Anderson Center, 700 Main St., Edmonds.
Admission: Free.
Information: www.eaffoundation.org

 

For as long as anyone can remember, Alice and John Owen were a creative team.

John was the writer. A former sports editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he churned out humorous and tasty cooking columns he called “Intermediate Eater” for the Edmonds Beacon. Alice said John always needed a deadline and someone to write for.

Alice herself has long been a respected watercolor artist. She painted the first Edmonds in Bloom poster, in 1993, and created the artwork for numerous cookbooks John published.

Theirs was a 63-year marriage of creative zeal, ending only after John died in 2014 at age 85.

Now 86, Alice continues the legacy of the Owens’ creative output from her spacious condo in downtown Edmonds. If the artwork decorating her walls is any indication, it appears she is in her prime.

You can see for yourself, as Alice’s work is featured through Sept. 14 at the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation space in the lobby of the Frances Anderson Center.

Owen has been exhibiting her watercolors in Edmonds since 1993, including with Gallery

North, Semantics Gallery, Edmonds Arts Festival, Main Street Gallery and the Northwest Holiday Art Show.

Alice is a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, Montana Watercolor Society

and juried member of Women Painters of Washington.

“I hope my painting is about deepening an experience,” she said. “I like focusing in, trying to achieve an intimacy and intensity with a close-up view so that the painting is more than an ordinary moment of existence.”

Alice grew up in Montana, where she met John at the University of Montana. They were both journalism students. They married in 1951 and moved to Puget Sound in 1953, first settling in Bellevue.

Alice started painting in 1970, and said she became serious about it in 1978.

It was in 1993 that Alice, after moving to Edmonds with John, submitted a watercolor of the Edmonds Log Cabin Visitors Center to the inaugural Edmonds in Bloom garden tour. She won the publicized contest.

Alice said people ask her about her interpretation of the log cabin’s color, which she painted as reddish.

“Well, when the sun goes down, it gets a glow,” she said. “I’ve been asked a lot of times why the cabin isn’t brown in the painting. And my answer has always been, I don’t do brown.”

She does colorful.

“I’m struck by different patterns, and I’ve always liked the Southwest, especially for its color,” she said. “I am not turned on by green at all, so I’m leaving that to others, who do really wonderful things with it.”

Although watercolor has always been her medium of choice, Alice said that a few years ago she started dabbling in gouache, which provides an opaque watercolor result. “It’s not transparent,” she said. “In watercolor, the white paper kind of shows through and affects the appearance. Gouache is like a cross between watercolor and acrylic, but it’s water-based paint.”

Alice said her painting style is more abstract than previously. Shapes are her thing. When traveling around the world with her husband, she often painted the scenery she saw. But she says she’s not as captured by landscapes these days.

“I’m not really interested in painting objects anymore. A number of artists make that progression. Tree bark is my current fascination. I’m seeing such wonderful things in tree bark. I like to see, to look, more closely at everything. I know I look crazy when I go for walks because I’m always staring at some little tiny thing, you know. Like a flower. The patterns, the colors. When I look at something, I’m simplifying it in my mind to its basic shape.”

Always learning

Alice didn’t illustrate her late husband’s first two cookbooks, as that was done by P-I artists and cartoonists. But she did the remaining ones.

“I went to the library and got a book on how to do cartoons,” she said. “I went around downtown Seattle to draw on common themes. Some of the places are no longer there, like the Kingdome.”

Her illustrations, just like her artwork, have continued to amaze with their freshness over the years.

One thing Alice never did, much anyway, was cook entrees. That was John’s job, and what he focused on in his books and columns for the Beacon.

“At home we both cooked,” she said. “When he retired, he was an entree cook. He would never have cooked a vegetable or made a salad. I did that. If I had known we’d be doing a test kitchen for well over 30 years, you know, I never would have signed on.”

She laughed at that. She was just kidding, and remembering.

 

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