Originally from Milledgeville, Georgia, 79-year-old Chapel Hill resident Gary Owens said his artistic career began while he was in middle school.
“Apparently I talked too much and distracted everybody,” Gary Owens said. “So they gave me paper and prints and things, and put me over in the corner so that I would be working and not disturbing everybody else.”
The Orange County Department on Aging is currently hosting an art exhibition at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Senior Center to feature works by Gary Owens. The exhibit began with a reception last Friday.
His daughter, Sarah Owens, said she remembers growing up around her father’s art. She recounted how her father made collages on her brown paper lunch bag every day before school, saying it made her feel special.
“Every day I'd go to school with a different scene to accompany me to school and it would be part of my lunch,” Sarah Owens said.
Seymour Center Program and Operations Manager Cydnee Sims said Gary Owens' art exhibition is part of an Orange County program that allows older adults to display their artwork.
“We're very fortunate that we have artists — people from the community reach out and say, 'Hey, I'm interested, I'm an artist and I would love to exhibit my work there,'” Sims said.
Sims added that giving senior citizens a platform to display their artwork gives them an opportunity to become more familiar with the services offered at the Seymour Center.
She explained that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many senior citizens stopped going to the center and only now are they slowly beginning to attend programs again.
Sims also said the idea for Gary Owens' exhibition started after Sarah Owens reached out to the Department on Aging and described her father’s artwork. The department then arranged to have the art put on display at the Seymour Center.
The exhibition presents some paintings from Gary Owens’ “Art is History Collection," which he has painted over the last 10 to 15 years, according to Sarah Owens. The collection features acrylic-on-canvas caricatures depicting influential cultural, historical and religious figures of the last century.
Sarah Owens said there are 120 paintings in this collection and that roughly 45 are currently being displayed for the exhibition.
Gary Owens added that the caricatures are inspired by books and magazine articles that he reads.
“I would try to translate something from whatever I had learned into a caricature,” Gary Owens said.
Sarah Owens added the paintings reflect her father’s life experiences. She said when her father paints something, he often explains the meaning behind it to his family.
“We get to see it, but he tells us the stories of what he remembers, of what he was doing around the time and a certain figure that he painted or what it meant to his family or to his community,” Sarah Owens said.
Gary Owens said the paintings on display at the Seymour Center are ones that he believed would be the most interesting to the public. Ultimately, he said he hopes the historical figures in the paintings will inspire viewers by showing examples of people who influenced history.
According to Sims, the artwork is also available for purchase. The exhibit will be available for viewing at the Seymour Center until Dec. 2. The building is open to the public and the paintings are situated in hallways on both the first and second floors.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.