Story Time with Susan Owen

When I was 17 and in college, I had three tedious ‘art’ classes that left me feeling unfulfilled and diminished.  As a result, I hit out on mine own, as it were, and turned in assignments that were more to my liking.  (One assignment was a collage of differing textures, so I took apart a Kotex pad…but that is for another time.)  Each of these offerings elicited similar commentary from my professors, “Now this is not exactly what I had in mind, although very unique and individual, but not exactly…ummm…..” For some reason this pleased me immensely and I continued to buck the system, not always with winning results. But a girlz gotta do what a girlz gotta do.  Thus, out of the diamonds and dust of my own mighty travail, comes the tale of little Chanel.


Upon reflection, she thought it all started with that Yves diaper bag.  Baby Chanel loathed the sight of it and went immediately into tantrum screechings every time her little eyes caught sight of it.  Her mother was a slave to high-end brand names and everywhere Chanel looked as she grew, there was another loathsome set of initials of a scrawled and famous signature on one or another of her garments.

She grew into pre-adolescence with a defined sense of her own style and she and her mother regularly locked horns.

Chanel would put together an outfit that made her mother’s teeth itch and delighted the young lady (plaid men’s ties and shiny black tap shoes from the goodwill, miniskirts with a chiffon underlayer, tanks that she would embellish with antique buttons, or ribbons, or outlandish pins from the 40′)s.

Upon graduation from high school, she attended a fashion design school and emerged with the knowledge she sought as regards to pattern making and use of the various complex machines that she would need for her life’s work.  By this time her mother had begun to go a little grey, but continued to try, to no avail, to get Chanel to wear business suits and ‘acceptable’ boring blouses and power pumps.  Chanel continued to make the ‘gag me’ sign at her mother as she donned her 1950’s net petticoats and trotted off to her job as a pattern maker for a small garment manufacturer.

At night, Chanel continued to pull together her own creations and after much wheedling, talked her boss into giving her a small showing at a warehouse in the Bronx.

The night of the show, a CEO of a large company, seeking fresh blood for his junior division, found himself with nothing to do and having seen the flyer for Chanel’s little show, decided to drop in for a moment.  He expected nothing of interest, but was curious for a look.  After all, it couldn’t hurt, and he did have a small block of time.  What he saw made his jaded jaw drop to the sawdust on the floor of the warehouse.

Within a month, Chanel’s creations were crowding the fashion pages and the signature piece was gracing the cover of Vogue.  She had joined her models to show the pieces at her second, and much larger show, and as she strutted down the ramp, smiling from ear to ear, flashbulbs exploded around the new darling of one of the most fickle industries in the world.  “It can happen to anyone,” she said to Women’s Wear Daily. “You just have to take your dreams unaltered from your head to the fabric, and never, never listen to your mother.”

Please come by our studio in Cayucos for the ARTS Obispo’s Open Studios Tour on Oct. 13&14 and 20&21 for recent work by me and my partner Dennis Kish.  Susan and Dennis’ studio numbers are 67 & 68 (page 17) in the Open Studios Tour catalog.


Origins: Dennis Kish

I was mostly bored by school, did little more than get by. Some things I did well, like talking and writing, but I shied away from anything that seemed ah, organized like math and the sciences. I liked to make stuff (still do). So…off to art school! One problem, I couldn’t draw very well. However, I wanted to make things, and two early encounters started me on my way:  abstract expressionism and a goat.

I volunteered for the gallery crew my first quarter of school, patching and painting the walls in the exhibit space and getting to know the younger faculty. Then it was time to unpack a traveling show of abstract expressionist art from New York, and suddenly, there it was–an angora goat on a rolling platform with a tire around its middle!  When the show opened, the gallery was filled with people squinting at the goat and asking, “But what does it mean?”

Robert Rauchenberg “Monogram”
(image downloaded from Wikipedia)

And, wow!  There I was, a kid from Akron, Ohio, who couldn’t draw very well and liked to make things. Instant validation!

After I left school, I started a furniture making and repair business that has supported me in one way or another for about fifty years. Recently I created a piece of sculpture that I look on as a reaction to the furniture repair aspect of my life so far.

Stand Plant

Okay, plant stand then, or fern stand, (a spindly, often fragile easily tipped over piece of furniture designed, to display a plant). Designed to fall over, I say. I’ve repaired a number of these over the years. They arrive in the shop each with a tale of woe: broken, water stained, missing tiny ornamental bits and some of them so narrow and spindly as to fall over if you look at them. Mind you, the iron stands are much more robust especially when firmly bolted to the floor (amazing the insights one gains from living with eight cats and a dog).

Forthwith I present my contribution to this wretched tradition, the Standplant, containing both elements, stand and plant. Assembled as a fiendish complexity of random twists and turns so as to sorely try the patience of anyone unfortunate enough to ever try and repair it.

I look forward to being cursed through the ages (assuming the cockroaches don’t win).

Please visit my partner Susan Owen and me in our Cayucos studio during the 2012 Open Studios Tour, sponsored by the ARTS Obispo, San Luis Obispo County Arts Council.  We will be open both weekends of October 13 & 14 and October 20 & 21.

Story Time with Susan Owen

I believe I have said before many times that I was born with one foot in this world and one in another, so most things that others find puzzling, I find perfectly normal.  This is probably why I live with a shape shifting dragon, and for me, when he adopted me, it was just another day.  Things have been a little livelier in my manse since his arrival, but that just keeps the blood circulating and keeps thing from becoming stagnant.

Most of my drawings reflect the way my mind works when I am at my most comfortable and happy.  Drawing is something I do because I want to, but also because I love to and I have to.  Like walking or cooking or eating chocolate……I have to.

I live near the beach in a very modest cottage with 8 cats, an obstreperous border collie, many rose bushes, and my partner and fellow artist, Dennis Kish.  Between us we keep the wheels of home and hearth spinning with a minimum of rusty squeaking and still make sure we have time to make the art that is the best part of our lives.

Since Skosh the dragon came to live with us, there have been many adventures that have given me a lot of fodder for drawings and stories, some of which I have put into a book that we have, with much wrangling and swearing, managed to self-publish. (And self-bind, hence the wrangling and swearing.) It is so much fun (and since the fodder keeps a’comin’) I have decided to begin yet another book, this first book is just the camel’s nose in the tent…as it were.

Skosh hates to have his picture taken most of the time and tends to shift into something un-photographable…like a trash can, or…well (never mind).  Anyway, since this is so, I have made a soft sculpture of him (that’s me with him).

Susan Owen and Skosh

The sketch below is of the two of us.  We have had no problem bonding…especially with his shifting talents.

I work mostly in fine line colored ink pens, pastel, and colored pencil. I do not encourage Skosh to emulate me…he is not safe with art supplies just yet.  I hope you will come visit us, and enjoy my work as much as I enjoy making it.

Come Visit Susan and Skosh both weekends in ARTS Obispo’s Open Studio Tour (studio #68, page 17 in the catalog).