When you visit an art gallery, do you ever take a moment to wonder why the pieces are arranged in a certain way? Have you ever stopped to consider what makes for a compelling exhibit?
Jamie Owen has devoted much of his professional life to pondering those questions, and in the process, has become a master of the curatorial artform – or, as he describes it, “a visual conductor”. By arranging displays of artwork – be it paintings, photographs, ceramics, glass, furniture or textiles in a studied fashion, Owen aims to “engage people in seeing the art that’s in front of them.”
Owen has worked at Sheridan since 1990, first as the technologist for printmaking, and as curator of The Gallery since 1998. But his history with the college goes back much further; in fact, he was part of the first graduating class in 1969, having studied in what was then the commercial art program. He laughingly recalls that “in first year, they made us wear suits – because we were going to be ‘commercial’ artists.”
The path that led him first away and then back to Sheridan was one which helped to hone his expertise in both the handling and display of fine art. After a short-lived venture running his own outdoor sign business, he landed at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, doing matte and framing, and then building shipping containers to safely transport works of art. He also worked part-time at a number of other galleries, before landing a longer-term contract with the McMichael Gallery, home to an exclusively Canadian art collection.
From there, he moved to Ottawa, tasked with helping relocate the National Gallery of Canada’s valuable collection to its current home on Sussex Drive. As head of the move-in team, he ensured that priceless art pieces were carefully unpacked and installed in their new location. “Art handlers love every aspect of their work, from the packing to unpacking to installation.”
“I treat every piece of art that I handle the same way – as if it were a Van Gogh” – Jamie Owen
Owen has brought that passion to his role as curator for The Gallery at Sheridan, where he doesn’t discriminate between works, whether created by students, faculty or outside artists. “I treat every piece of art that I handle the same way – as if it were a Van Gogh.” To him, all art is equally valuable and deserving of respect. And that’s a lesson he tries to impart to the students whose works are exhibited throughout the year and at graduating shows. “I encourage them to respect their own art. They’re often thinking that their latest work is the best, but to the viewer in the Gallery, it’s all new, whether it was created yesterday or last year.”
Pictured at top of page: Jamie Owen. Photo by Sheridan Photography Technologist Owen Colborne
Written by: Susan Atkinson, Manager of Communications and Media Relations at Sheridan.