Contextual Research Point: 13 Johnathon Owens and Absence

Owen is a sculptor and has also developed a process which uses rubbers to make a drawing. In his process he draws onto photographs with a rubber, erasing layers to leave the surface white or sometimes not rubbing away at all and leaving the surface black. He removes figures from the photographs and replaces them with his own idea of what might have been behind them.

‘Owen’s Eraser Drawings – made using found book pages – can be considered as carvings in two dimensions. Most recently these have been drawn from publications of cinema history; film-stills, portraits of stars or documentary images on-set. Gradually removing ink from the surface of the page, he erases the foreground figures, reshaping them into inanimate details of the scenes they once inhabited.’

Ingle By. (2019) Johnathon Owen. At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

I am intrigued to understand how he does this. Does he do it with an actual rubber or is it with the use of software like photoshop? I discovered that Owen’s does indeed complete these drawings with an ordinary rubber. 

‘Despite knowing that this task could easily be accomplished with computer programs like Photoshop, Owen values the inevitable imperfections that arise when the process is done with an ordinary eraser.’ 

National Galleries Scotland. (s.d) Johnathon Owen. At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

To me the missing figures really create this idea of absence and an eery feel to the photograph. The subtlety reminds me of transfer drawings that I experimented with in part 3. 

‘Owen’s work focuses on transformation, and his drawings use tools to ‘carve’ ink away from the paper rather than add it to the surface.’

I like the visual impact of seeing some of what used to be there, some evidence that is left behind. This fits with my idea of presence and absence in the physical matter of things. ‘…the residual traces left behind leave clues as to what was once there.’

National Galleries Scotland. (s.d) Johnathon Owen. At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

His works are concentrated on producing a final image rather than focusing on the process of how it is made. Artsy (2014) Jonathan Owen’s Defaced Photos & Sculptures Are Surreal, Puzzle-Like Objects (Accessed 20 December 2018)

I also had a brief look at a fellow students blog on her findings of Johnathon Owen’s work and I noticed that she had an image of a burnt photograph which really got me thinking about the idea of erasure and the historic heritage importance of photographs. Photographs can be very sentimental, part of a family’s history. The idea of burning it, erasing the image makes it feel more permanent . It is turned to ash. Could you then draw with this ash I wonder?


Figure 1. Owen, J. (2018) Eraser Drawing (American Comedy) [partially erased book page] At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

Figure 2. Owen, J. (2018) Eraser Drawing (Tennessee) [partially erased book page] At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

Figure 3. Owen, J. (2018) Eraser Drawing (The cameraman) [partially erased book page] At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

Figure 4. Owen, J. (2018) Eraser Drawing (Lot) [partially erased book page] At:  (Accessed 20 December 2018)

Figure 5. Owen, J. (2013) Eraser Drawing (Still from Casino Royale) At: (Accessed 20 December 2018)

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