Laguna Beach artist Jonathon Owen usually likes to limit his silk-screen prints to editions of 70 or less. But a recent project numbers more than 1 million copies--and still counting.
Owen, 37, is the creator of a print used as the album cover for pop group Mr. Mister's second release, "Welcome to the Real World," which recently went platinum--more than a million copies sold. Designing an album cover was a new experience for Owen, who until now has gotten most of his exposure by selling his prints through the yearly Laguna Beach Festival of Arts.
It was the festival that brought Owen to the attention of Richard Page, singer and bassist of the Los Angeles group. While visiting the exhibition in the summer of 1984, Page saw Owen's work and "fell in love with it," according to Mr. Mister manager George Ghiz.
Page wanted to use Owen's work for the cover of the follow-up to Mr. Mister's 1984 debut album, "I Wear the Face," but Ghiz said that Owen was initially reluctant. "I was a bit nervous at first, because I felt I wasn't really going to have time to do it, but we went into it and it came out OK," Owen said.
Owen created a new work for the album cover, with input from band members Page, Steve Farris, Pat Mastelotto and Steve George. Because of a tight deadline--"They wanted it yesterday"--Owen decided to incorporate silk-screened photographic reproductions, rather than create the work from scratch, as he usually does.
"There wasn't time for me to go out and take all new location shots and so on, so they came over to my studio and we went through everything I had, all my film negatives and photographs," the artist recalled. "Richard and the band chose the images that they wanted to use, and then I pieced them together."
The finished image incorporates a London skyline, a Welsh field and photographs of the band members taken in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Such juxtapositions are common in Owen's art--one work in progress features a pair of Santa Monica beach bathers superimposed onto a field in Wales. The Mr. Mister cover also displays Owen's unusual use of color, which gives the work a surrealistic feel.
"They (Mr. Mister) just wanted something with the sort of feel I get in my works, the mystery and otherworldliness," Owen said. According to Ghiz, band members were "very happy" with the finished product.
"Records sell records, not album covers, but it's nice to have a good-looking package," said Ghiz, who added that Mr. Mister has contractual control over its covers. "You want to try and create something that people will like to look at."
Although the Mr. Mister cover was completed in three weeks, Owen usually takes two to three months to complete a print. First, he executes a watercolor painting based on photographs, and then he makes a pencil tracing of the painting. This tracing is the basis for the 50 to 60 screens Owen typically employs for a single print, each screen representing a different color. Owen created 27 screens for the Mr. Mister cover.
Next he makes the final prints. Owen chooses to maintain control over the process and make his own rather than hire someone to do it for him. "It's tough and dirty work," explained Owen. "The process itself is not very enjoyable--it's the finished effect that I like."
Bypassing galleries, Owen does nearly all his selling during the seven-week Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach. "It's great exposure--there's nothing else like it," the artist said. "I wouldn't say that the festival is the place to see the best art, but it's a good cross section, and there are some good young people there."
Owen also met his wife of six years, painter Sherry Andrens, at the festival. The London-born Owen had been living in Wales for six years before he moved to California to marry Andrens.
The couple lived in Corona del Mar at first, then moved to Santa Monica and just weeks ago moved again, to a fixer-upper in Laguna Beach with a second small house in back that will serve as a studio for both artists. "Our work is very different, but that's kind of nice, really, because we're not in competition in any way," Owen said.