Fifties artist Richard Hamilton was one of the progenitors of Pop - as in, the fine art movement that took its substance from popular culture. While today we associate Pop with Andy Warhol (of Campbell's soup can fame), Hamilton penned the movement's 11 Commandments, as in, let pop be: Popular, Transient, Expendable, Low Cost, Mass Produced, Young, Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous and Big Business. Let's just say that the Harrison Gallery's Pop Tartan, on view now through January, hits on almost all points. Work by Quincy Owens is on exhibit at the Harrison Gallery through the end of January.
Artist Quincy Owens, whose works comprise the show, intended to be playful. Images such as "Scottish Enlightenment" offer an abstraction of a Scottish tartan (a sample of which is exhibited in a small color photocopy below the painting), and the exhibition's title image, "Pop Tartan," offers a pastiche of images: a repeated stenciled image from South Pacific, painted toasters and other graphic flourishes.
Owens' intent, in fact, was to make light with art while exploring Scottish culture by way of its most enduring image: the tartan. Pop Art, as in the movement, had both a British and an American expression (the Brits started it); and Owens, coincidentally, bridges both sides of the Atlantic as well with his two primary images: the tartan and the Pop Tart.
While Owens is successful in incorporating tartans, he does make art, too, employing a Jasper Johns-like backdrop of glossy color (even including Johns-issue text) in the show's most provocative paintings: the "Pop it like it's hot" series. These large paintings elevate Owens' work above the level of visual wit and reveal a less contrived voice. But exercises such as these can serve to prod an artist into trying new things, and from that exercise, perhaps new modes of expression and different techniques will emerge.
From the looks of Pop Tartan, which, for all its accessibility may end up a commercial success, Owens has been given just that opportunity.
The Johns connection may not be coincidence, as Johns is remembered from the Pop Art movement, wherein repetitive graphic images were a mainstay (in Johns' case, the American flag). It's also no coincidence that the Harrison Gallery is meant to exhibit the work of emerging artists and appeal to the "emerging patron," as coined by Harrison Center director Joanna Taft. In the end, Pop Tartan is good, clean fun (now you know which of the 11 commandments is not included).
Pop Tartan runs through January at the Harrison Art Gallery, located in the Harrison Center for the Arts at 1501 N. Delaware St. Call 396-3886 for hours and information.