One portrait can take Owen Jennings two years or more to finish. He says he could work on most pieces for the rest of his life.
So being invited to participate in the May First Friday show at Pure Pursuit was a “saving grace,” Jennings, 24, says. The invitation put a cap on three large-scale acrylic portraits by the Kansas City Art Institute graduate from Tulsa, Okla.
The show is titled “Semblance.”
Jennings says he begins with fairly straightforward portraits of friends or family, but his use of layering quickly sends the images into abstraction.
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“The people that I paint are those who have had a huge impact on my life, whether it was positive or negative,” he says. Yet, “I don’t want it to be necessarily a specific person. Painting is more of a personal thing where I reflect on moments I’ve had with these people. … I change and adapt and keep adding to them.”
The three paintings in the May show are all 7-by-3 feet, painted on a variety of home-improvement store materials. One, for instance, is on medium-density fiberboard.
Jennings likes to work with surfaces that aren’t pristine, as prepared canvases usually are, because it supports his thoughts on impermanence and the idea that messes are a good thing.
“It’s about a process and trying new things and what will be most effective in communicating an emotion I’m feeling that day or memories I’ve made with these specific people and how to translate that into something viewers will also be able to pull from,” he explains.
The other artist in the show is Ryan Wilks, 28, who also paints large-scale portraits. He’s self-taught.
“I’m showing two self-portraits I’ve done over the last year in addition to a large drag queen portrait I did to show the process of makeup transformation,” Wilks says.
Though the two hadn’t worked together in the past, curator Ashley Anders thought to pair Jennings and Wilks based on their pieces’ scale and a similar gestural style.
Wilks agrees that their brush strokes and use of color make them a good fit for a group show.
Anders is the special events coordinator for EVAC and curates many of the shows. She says that EVAC’s mission is “to close the gap or broaden the network of veteran artists and local artists in one setting.” Twenty percent of gallery sales go to EVAC to support exhibitions, workshops and other opportunities for veterans.
Jennings and Wilks are joining an exhibition by two veterans that is halfway through a six-month run, ending in July.
Marine Corps veteran Taylor White lives in Quantico, Va. A former sniper, he uses his multidisciplinary art to explore the realities of dominant and submissive roles between individuals and cultures. His digital prints are on display.
Air Force veteran Bill Sowell, who lives in Kansas City, uses Colorado marble to compare human experiences with celestial events and naturally occurring geological formations. He’s showing three sculptures: “Loving Admiration,” “Eclipse” and “The Dance.”
Jennings has shown at the Late Show and Weinberger. Wilks’ work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions around Kansas City since 2009, most recently at the David Jones Gallery and Alpha Gallery.
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“Semblance” will be on display at Pure Pursuit, 1619 Walnut St., through May 28. Hours are 6-9 p.m. First Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment Sundays.