The experience of viewing Tjasa Owen’s seascapes falls somewhere between paging through an old photo album and drifting off into a sunny summer daydream. As memories and dreams so often are, the tone of Owen’s work is simultaneously rich, evocative, and ambiguous. There is a feeling of something slipping away, or missing, or just slightly out of reach.
Memories, travels, and old journals provide fertile terroir for Owen’s work. “I have a studio full of sketchbooks,” she says. “I’m painting postcards of where I want to be, sending them back out into the world.”
Owen’s paintings feature a beachy palette, assertive brushwork, and often, writing, scribbling, and old stamps. She is not interested in re-creating nature or a particular place. Rather, it is more the feeling, the memory that she translates into either oil or watercolor. “It is a playfulness that I enjoy immensely,” Owen says. “Sometimes it is really abstract; sometimes it is really realistic.”
Certain motifs appear again and again: dunes, low tide, masses of beach grass, meandering beach paths. “They have no beginning,” Owen explains. “Sometimes I start with the sky and just work my way down. But it is totally imagined. It evokes such a memory for me—walking through dunes to the ocean not knowing what was on the other side.”
While Owen calls San Francisco her home, it is New England that holds her heart. As a child, she spent summers and weekends on Block Island. Her father eventually sold the family home there, which left Owen feeling unmoored and heartbroken. “I just felt like I didn’t have my footing,” she says. “Dear friends of mine had a cottage in Cummaquid. I fell in love right away.” Cape Cod echoes many of the things Owen loved about Block Island: “There are so many hidden pockets where you feel like you go back in time,” she says. “You can’t wipe the smile off my face as I drive down 6A.”
Owen grew up in an artistic household and originally pursued art history and interior architecture. While she was attending school for interior architecture, a teacher noticed some of her small watercolors sitting on her drafting table and connected her with a gallery. That connection resulted in her first show—an exhibit of large-scale seascapes on paper—and gave her the confidence she needed to take a leap and become a full-time painter.
While Owen’s work has evolved, the subject matter has remained consistent. “Painting for me is so seaside driven,” she says. “Most people who come into my studio say, ‘Oh, you’re from New England,’ and I reply, ‘Is it that obvious?’”– Amanda Wastrom