Canberra is about to give up one of its best and most interesting young artists to the bright lights of Sydney. He has resisted as long as possible, but now Owen Lewis is making the move. Goodbye Owen we will miss you!
To bid him adieu, I thought I would revisit a work from his exhibition Shit Wreck!, held in March of this year. In the show, Owen uncharacteristically delved into photography. The series, entitled Bushwhacked, completely blew me away.
One image I found particularly haunting. A young woman, in colonial dress, turns toward the viewer. Her expression is pained, exhausted, wary yet determined. Specimens of Australian flora and discarded feathers hover strangely about her face and throat. Too oddly positioned to be decorative, they instead seem to weigh upon her, crowding and oppressive.
Having been hungrily researching my own genealogy I was especially drawn towards this loaded image. My thoughts couldn’t help but turn to the lives of my matriarchal forbearers, having been plonked here by convict ship, etching out an existence for themselves and their families in harsh isolation.
The plants and feathers bearing down upon the figure seem to represent the nature of the entire country. Strange and beautiful, yet with the power to bring souls undone.
Earlier this year I took down some thoughts about this body of work as a whole:
‘In Lewis’ view it is Australia the island; a strange and unknown land on which we are all marooned. A foreigner of sorts, the castaway must confront harsh realities that are completely at odds with the romanticised Australia. Here the colonial settler appears as an alien apparition against a backdrop of an ancient world and ominous spiritual forces that he cannot understand.’
I hadn’t realised that this photograph, which I subsequently purchased, was perhaps an early manifestation of ideas I went on to deal with in my exhibition Borderlife. It’s funny the way images creep up on you like that. Lying dormant in your consciousness until you one day realise what an impact they really made.