Art

The Art of Fresh Air

Painter Margaret Owen makes the world a more colorful place, inside and out

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Margaret Owen brings a joyful interplay of color to the subjects she paints, whether it’s a still life of flowers in a vase or fruit in a bowl, a portrait, or an apartment interior in Paris or Morocco. She also paints outside, “en plein air” as the French say; a favorite spot is a small bridge at Pleasant Valley Parkway in Elmhurst, near her in-home studio. On one of her walls hangs a painting of the bridge, lush and alive with greenery; on another, it sleeps under fat, block-like snowflakes, captured by her brush year-round.

“It’s basically a glorified drainage ditch, but I could paint it all day,” Owen says. Viewed through her artistic interpretation, one might feel transported to a peaceful pastoral vista. Owen has a knack for seeking out the vibrancy in her subjects and capturing it with meticulous detail or with more abstract strokes, but always with those powerful colors. Her artist name, Permanent Magenta, is both an actual paint color as well as a paradox of concepts: something irrevocable, yet also fun and bold.

Based on her body of work, it’s unsurprising that Owen finds inspiration in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters like Paul Cézanne, and Claude Monet – “I know it’s clichéd, but I can’t get enough of him” – along with Mary Cassatt and Vincent van Gogh.

Cézanne’s style moved Owen early on in her life; she claims he “got [her] started” as a painter and would carry one of his prints around. “The way he uses color just completely speaks to me, and the way he sees space: as not just a 3D representation, but more of an idea,” she says. Like Cézanne, she tends to use pure colors next to each other on the canvas, rather than mixing them on the palette first—she “let[s] them mix optically instead.” She cites large-scale landscape painter Ida Schmulowitz as a local inspiration.

Owen began using oil paints in high school in Virginia; later, she earned a master’s degree at the New York Academy of Art, where she immersed herself in the more technical aspects of her craft. There, she met her husband, Michael, a fellow artist, RISD graduate, and a native Rhode Islander. When they became pregnant, the couple decided to leave New York City and settle in Providence.

Owen always preferred still life painting indoors, but as their son grew, she started “venturing farther afield” and found that watercolor paints were easier to transport and paint with while sitting by the water in Jamestown or traveling with a close friend to Europe to paint together and visit art museums. Her background is in still life and close observation, but watercolors allow her to experiment in new ways. Thanks to the combination of her cheerful style and sparkling, patient personality, Owen became a painting instructor, teaching regular classes. Her students even urged her to do plein air classes; now, she leads painting sessions in parks and beautiful spots all over the city and beyond.

In a world plagued with distractions, stressful news, and overwhelming consumerism, Owen views artmaking as a way to sit quietly with herself and her feelings: the perfect antidote to a society driven by compulsion. She sums up her philosophy in a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be attentive to what is arising within you, and place that above everything else... What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love.” She hopes her painting and teaching will “give others permission” to engage with the world and find beauty all around them, encouraging them to find their own inner peace and expressive voice.

Margaret Owen’s work can currently be found at Studio Hop on Hope Street, Sheldon Fine Art in Newport, and the Darius Inn on Block Island.