Artist Owen Marshall is no stranger to outdoor art — much of his work adorns sandwich boards, instructional posters and the kinds of signage typically associated with chain-link fences, sidewalks and storefronts. We caught up with Owen to chat about his most recent piece, a text-based work that riffs on our current zeitgeist (aka cautiously hopeful) and emerging after a long year of lockdown. The very fitting location: The Drake’s café patio.
Hi Owen! For many of us, it’s been a pretty low-key year close to home. What’s been inspiring you artistically?
I took a step back from art during the pandemic. I was lucky enough to have some projects on the go to keep my brain from completely turning off, but it felt nice to take a break from art and focus on other things. I picked up some old hobbies, got into cycling and adopted a dog. I mostly just tried to weather the year as best I could, finding little moments for art when it felt right. It was actually nice to have some time away.
You frequently work at the intersection of text and image, and your work is often very funny. Who are your biggest artistic influences?
I’m always inspired by people who can make funny work that still wants to be taken seriously. Artists like David Shrigley, Neil Farber, Michael Dumontier and John Baldessari all come to mind. Outside of artists, I draw a lot of inspiration from text I see on the street. I enjoy finding objects and words in places where they don’t quite belong or discovering unintentionally poetic interactions between text and the environment.
Tell us about the piece you’re installing on The Drake’s patio.
For this piece, I wanted to make something that felt right for the current moment and captured — at least for me — the sense of awkward optimism I feel about the process of reopening. When I was working on text for this project, I stumbled onto something I had made in the early months of the pandemic. It was a yellow bucket I had covered with the text “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and called it “Eager Bucket.” Nothing special but it made me laugh, mainly just the product of quarantine brain and boredom. From there I started playing around with the same text on the scale of the patio wall and it just clicked. It feels satisfying and appropriate to repurpose this text from a quarantine relic.
Outdoor art: any special challenges with installation? What do you like best about using outdoor space to showcase your work?
Working outside is actually a preference of mine. I like to use some of the same materials and processes as industrial signmakers for a lot of my text work, and I find those pieces are the most effective when encountered outdoors. Outdoor work also opens up to a larger audience and people tend to engage with it more freely.
Final question. What’s your favourite thing to do on a patio?
Nothing beats drinking a cold beer on the patio…except maybe drinking a cold beer on a patio in front of my own obnoxious artwork. But I haven’t tried that yet, so I can’t be certain.