Last weekend St. Margaret’s House, a little-known and easily missed space for artists, presented Owen Normand’s latest exhibition Moving On. Normand’s work explores “the bittersweet awareness of impermanence”, and this particular collection focuses on the idea of crossroads, inspired by his time spent in Berlin and having to finally make the decision to return to Edinburgh.
A frightening realisation of the impermanence of life hit me throughout my conversation with Normand in which we discussed the themes of his presented works. He hopes, however, for the show to encourage viewers to stop and appreciate life rather than becoming paralysed by fear; Normand understands his work as echoing the Japanese idea of Mono No Aware, where something becomes more valuable when it is fleeting.
When I asked what it feels like to live life in constant awareness of the impermanence of things he replied, “Well, I think it’s quite healthy” and argued that being aware of the end can lead to a more productive and generally better life, at least better than being oblivious. The first painting in the show is aptly titled Denial, depicting the first moment of a change that is about to happen, and that insatiable want of ignorance that comes with it.
The exhibition progresses in a narrative, illustrating the journey from denial to acceptance of change. What strikes one as strange in this exhibition is the story behind the inspiration: while Normand has moved on from his life in Berlin, in doing so he actually came back to his home in Edinburgh.
This paradoxical relationship between change and return comes through in strange thematic juxtapositions in his paintings. White Draped Future captures this subtlety perfectly, with the well-known imagery of white fabric draped over furniture in a vacated home alluding both to the concept of upheaval as well as the sensation of homeliness.
Normand has deliberately moved away from his usual realistic approach to art and has begun experimenting with more simplified stylised figures and bolder colours, intending to leave more for the audience to interpret and make each piece their own. Certainly the moods in the paintings are sombre, but there is no clear intention or meaning in this subtle exhibition; rather, like the narrative of the show itself, each viewer embarks on a journey from a fear of the fleetingness of the present to acceptance thereof, to conscientiously appreciating those moments that will inevitably end.
Image: Karuna Rahman