Painter Owen Rival finds beauty in the mundane moments of life and coupledom

Using his work as a way to interact with life’s high and low points, the Toronto-based painter skilfully captures the volatile nature of young adulthood.

18 July 2022


When Owen Rival first began to take painting seriously, he tried to create art about historical and culturally significant moments. But something wasn’t right. Looking to the core of his practice Owen realised that the problem lay in him not feeling “personally connected” to his works. So, the painter took to depicting his own life. Now taking inspiration from everyday experiences, Owen’s spectacularly realised, over-saturated paintings show his subjects going on grocery runs, laying in bed, scrolling on a laptop and playing video games. Put quite simply, his paintings perfectly depict life’s most seemingly mundane moments.

A defining feature of Owen’s paintings is how sensitively and honestly he portrays existing as a couple. This focus, he shares, is part of his desire to give his paintings a certain intimacy, and, “the only way I know how to do that is paint moments that feel intimate to myself and hope that some element of it strikes a chord.” In Getting Ready, Jenny, Owen’s fiancee is shown putting on makeup, getting ready to go out, while Owen is in the foreground, engrossed in a video game. With an air of calm to it, the scene depicts two people at ease with one another, entirely content in their cohabitation, and it’s a scene that Owen and Jenny often “unintentionally” recreate.

But, not only detailing the calmer moments, the sense of intimacy is rooted in Owen’s ability to also detail the less comfortable aspects of life, and painting the volatile nature of young adulthood has helped Owen navigate the trickier times. In Longview – a piece Owen sees as somewhat an “inversion” of Getting Ready – we see Jenny’s face lit by a luminescent laptop screen, and Owen in the background painting a painting of the painting at hand – cleverly included as a means to representing the repetitiveness and cyclicality of the period. Painted during a stint in Longview, Texas, Jenny’s hometown, it’s a glimpse of their life at the time; Jenny was preparing for medical school interviews while Owen painted everyday. “Jenny and I are at a crazy time in our lives, both because of personal reasons, like graduating from school and getting married, as well as global reasons, like the pandemic and the economy,” Owen shares. “My paintings have been my way of documenting and processing these times, whether they be exciting, fun, boring, or stressful.”


Owen Rival: Longview (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)

Owen’s journey into art is one of the slightly more unconventional ones we've encountered here at It’s Nice That. After suffering a bad concussion in gymnastics class, the only activity that Owen could do was drawing. “As concussions go, this one had a pretty good outcome,” he laughs, “I really fell in love with art and I worked for the next two years on getting my portfolio ready for art school.” Attending Rhode Island School of Design, Owen majored in design for two reasons, the first being that his technical skill wasn’t “great”, and an illustration tends to focus heavily on technique. Secondly, Owen felt that a job as an illustrator would be more stable and respectable. Throughout all of this, however, all of Owen’s favourite artists were fine artists; specifically painters. It was then in his final year – given the impetus by his fiance to believe in himself – that Owen took the plunge and began to pursue painting.

Whilst Owen’s paintings may depict the mundane, in style they are far from it. Dramatically deviating away from a realistic colour palette, Owen instead gravitates toward vibrant, sometimes supernatural tones. Using such colours as a means to draw the viewer in, or amplify the mood, Owen also uses them to “highlight elements in the painting that [he] thinks are important”. Moreover, he loves how using certain colours has the potential to imply certain feelings or emotions; “like how red makes a scene more intense and blues can indicate calm”.

These ideas translate brilliantly in a recent piece, Groceries. Depicting a typical grocery run, the colours applied throughout inject a palpable sense of tension and stress into the scene. With a strong red hue adding intensity to the subject’s frantic looking expression, Owen explains the green sidelight is to signal that the driver has to keep going. In the end, the scene appears more like a high-speed car chase than simply popping to the shop for essentials. “I was trying to capture that feeling of always having another task to do while simultaneously feeling like something was forgotten along the way,” the painter says. Gifted with a clear perception, both of everyday scenes and the moods and emotions they evoke, Owen’s paintings sit at the unusual boundary of relatability, and striking visual complexity.


Owen Rival: Getting Ready (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Groceries (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Gap Year (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Hm (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Dread (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Notification (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Crypto Cowboy (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Crypto Cowboy (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)


Owen Rival: Toronto (Copyright © Owen Rival, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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