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Georgette London Owens (b. 1920)

Photographed by Brassai in her Paris Studio in the late 1940s

  • Georgette London Owens was born in Paris in 1920 to a left-wing political activist father and a journalist mother who introduced her to travel and the arts.  As a child, Owens traveled extensively throughout Europe and in her mother’s circle of intellectual artist friends met Jean Cocteau, Colette, Niki de St. Phalle, and Leonor Fini. During WWII, she remained in Paris, witnessing first-hand the horrors of the German occupation and losing her father to the French Resistance.  At 16, Owens studied drawing and lithography at École des Beaux-Arts.  Each day after school, Owens would visit La Grande Chaumiere in Montparnasse to sketch. Eventually her mother purchased a small atelier in Montparnasse, across from Alberto Giacometti’s studio.  Owens was thrilled to have her own space in which to paint, and she kept to her studies in earnest.

    She met the Cubist painter André Lhote, with whom she studied for several years.  Lhote disapproved of her desire to marry Frank Owens, an Army Tech Sergeant she met through her work with the U.S. Engineers Services after the war.  Lhote felt that a family life would deter Owens from her painting, but nonetheless they married within 6 weeks and Owens continued to paint.  Lhote was friends with Pablo Picasso, who came to her first exhibition at Galerie Poirier in 1944 and congratulated her.  She continued to exhibit throughout Paris in the late 1940s; at Musée d'Art Moderne, Le Palais de Tokyo, Musée des Beaux Arts, and the Salon des Indépendants.

    In 1948, Owens and her husband left France and settled in Ohio, where Frank’s relatives lived.  During this time Owens had two children, Cathie and Frank, and continued to paint and draw, visiting the Museum of Modern Art in Cincinnati to take classes. After the birth of their third child, Gail, the family relocated to Larchmont, New York.

    Owens continued to paint at home and the proximity to New York’s booming metropolis, with its museums and galleries, energized her work. Having studied interior design and worked on residential projects, Owens was eager to engage in the commercial aspects of design.  Through a friend she met the general manager of the St. Regis Hotel, who contracted Owens to design 19 suites to be used by clothing designers showcasing their elegant wares for patrons of the hotel.  Her designs were a success and Owens was given an office in the building and freelanced on renovation projects throughout the hotel, all the while continuing to paint.

    Through her work at the St. Regis, Owens was asked to re-decorate the apartment of actor Rex Harrison, and designed the fundraising reception for the John F. Kennedy Library, hosted by Jackie Kennedy.

    One day in the lobby Owens met Salvador Dali, a frequent guest of the hotel.  He asked Owens to pose for him as Medusa, using Owen’s long red hair as reference for his 1963 lithograph “La Meduse.”  Dali became her mentor, and when he decided to exhibit his jewelry in the Spanish Pavilion at the International Fair in New York, he asked Owens to design the display.  In addition to her interior design work, Owens was also painting during this period and exhibited at the George Wiener Gallery on Madison Avenue and in a group exhibit at MOMA.

    During a trip to Paris, Owens met the designer Pierre Cardin, who had seen her paintings and commissioned her to design a jewelry line.

    After the completion of her work at the St. Regis, Owens was hired to redecorate the Silver Room at Cartier’s New York boutique.  Sponsored by the French government, Owens gathered fine art, ceramics, tapestries, jewelry, and antique furniture from France to decorate the space.

    The 1969 moon landing provided great inspiration for Owens, who has since painted numerous planets, comets, and meteors.  Other inspirations include architecture, music (especially the jazz of Django Reinhardt, whom Owens saw perform in Paris), and travel.

    In 1978, Owens and her husband moved to California.  She devoted all of her time to painting and in 1988, formed the Alliance for Women Artists to help professional female artists exhibit both nationally and internationally.

    In 1998, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from World Contemporary Art for her work with the Alliance and her pursuit of artistic excellence in her own work.  Owens has since exhibited extensively throughout Northern California and France.  She lives in Marin County, California.

    salvador dali ocelot
    Georgette taking care of Salvador Dali's ocelot. Circa 1960s, Manhanttan.
    Dans ses premières années de peinture figurative, alors influencée par le cubisme dominant, elle montrait des qualités de coloriste très personnelles, osant des mélanges étranges, orangé-vert par exemple. Dans la suite de son évolution, pratiquant une sorte de paysagisme proche de l'abstraction lyrique, elle agence des formes colorées bien délimitées, structurées par un réseau de lignes-forces, en suggérant un mouvement tectonique.

    During her early figurative work, influenced by cubism dominating then the Paris art world, Georgette London Owens showed qualities of a very distinct colorist, mixing colors in a way no one was doing at that time, like orange mixed with green. Her work then evolved from figurative into abstracted landscapes. She combines colorful forms next to each other, structured by a network of strong lines, suggesting a quasi tectonic movement.
    -Bénézit, Dictionary of Artists
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