Critics’ Picks

Melody Owen, Cutaway: Carphone, 2015, collage, 10 x 10".

Melody Owen, Cutaway: Carphone, 2015, collage, 10 x 10".


Melody Owen

Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 N.W. 9th Avenue
November 5, 2015–January 2, 2016

Portland-based artist Melody Owen has worked in collage for over two decades, and this exhibition displays her command of the medium at its most inventive and sensitive. This is particularly true of the newest works here, which interweave botanical and zoological imagery—such as flowers, whales, skeletons, and brains—within macrocosmic networks such as circulatory systems, cellular structures, and cross-sections of trees or of the human body. Most of Owen’s source materials are taken from old botany and anatomy books. The images have a velvety texture and a quiet range of tonality, evoking other wistful nature studies such as Leo Lionni’s book Parallel Botany (1976).

In the small-scale, twenty-work series “Under My Skin” (all works cited, 2015), each piece contains two rounded or cropped black-and-white images of plant cells and tree rings. The circular images at the top of each piece are vertically bisected by old cutouts of colored trees, each of which Owen trimmed to focus on the thick, ridged mass of the trunks. This creates a disarming perspective that makes one feel as if one is gazing into a microscope and a telescope at the same time—a dichotomy that evinces the artist’s preoccupation with both interior and exterior experience. In the collage Cutaway: Carphone, remnants of a human heart lurk at the center of a car crash as dotted lines snake through the cars, connecting a human head with a telephone receiver. The fine, hand-drawn lines ribbon across the page like telegraph wires, multiplying the works’ associative meanings.