Owen Rival on Why he Started to Draw, his Paintings, Inspirations & More

by Rubén Palma
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Owen Rival (b.1999), is a young, interesting and talented artist, based out of Toronto, Canada. In 2021 he graduated with a BFA in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is also a recipient of the Dumfries House Residency and the New York Academy of Art Summer Residency and is a member of the Society of Illustrators.

From flashpoints between adolescence and adulthood, decisions between social conventions and morality, and moments that capture the experience of existence, Owen Rival’s work examines points of no return.

“Sh!t”, 36″ by 48″, Acrylic on canvas, 2021

Hi Owen, it’s a pleasure to sit down with you. First question… and I always ask this cause I’m curious like that. You reside in Toronto, Canada. How does a regular day look like for you?

Hey Rubén, it’s a pleasure to sit down with you! Typically, I’ll start working in the studio around 7am. I love painting in the mornings because its quiet and I feel really energized and focused. While I’m painting, I’ll listen podcasts or music, so I listen to a ton of audio content. I’ll take a lunch break around noon and then paint until around 5:30pm. Then I’ll stop for the day, cook dinner for me and my wife, and we tell each other about our days and just enjoy the evening together. Sometimes we’ll watch a movie or tv show, but we usually just talk. I think relaxing in the evening is crucial to my practice because it’s why I wake up feeling energized and ready to paint in the mornings!

“Groceries”, 24″ by 36″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022

I read somewhere that you starting to draw after you suffered a bad concussion in gymnastics class. Talk to me a little bit about that. Have you always had a passion for drawing? And how old were you at the time?

I got the concussion when I was 16 after attempting to do a double front-flip for the first time (I landed on my head). The strange thing was I felt completely fine after landing and even continued with practice. It wasn’t until the next day that the headaches and light sensitivity kicked in. After that, there was a long period of time where the only thing I could do was draw. While I did have a little bit of experience with art before then, mostly in graffiti, the time after my concussion was when my passion for art was ignited

“Getting Ready”, 30″ by 40″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022

Staying on the subject, when did you transition into painting?

I transitioned into painting during my final year at RISD. I had just finished working on some large-scale, complicated drawings and I felt that painting was the next logical step. My first big painting, Summer Camp, really challenged me. It was a huge milestone in my artistic career and it’s the piece that taught me the most about painting.

“Gap Year”, 24″ by 30″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022

Your pieces often describe everyday situations, where something is happening. Do you have that scene already thought out, when starting on a new canvas?

Each and everyone of my paintings is very planned. I think it’s the fact that I got my degree in illustration, but I don’t like to leave anything to chance. Usually I’ll come up with an idea, do some sketches, and then my wife will use those sketches to help me take the reference photos. I use the reference photo to make a line drawing and then I use the drawing as a roadmap for the paintings. Every step is really important because I use the drawing and reference photo to set the colours and composition before I dive in. The one thing that often changes is what the painting represents to me. Sometimes a painting will mean one thing early on but have a completely different meaning to me by the time it’s finished. The last step when I finish a painting is giving it its title. 

“Dread”, 36″ by 48″, Acrylic on canvas, 2021

Correct me if i’m wrong, but around 2020 your paintings begin to change to the vibrant, realistic and colorful look you still apply to this day. Am I correct in my observation? And if so, talk to me a little bit about that shift in style.

It was actually around the summer of 2021! In attempt to make my studio a bit more professional, I purchased a set of LED coloured lights. After using those lights for the reference photo for my painting, Crypto Cowboy, I felt like I unlocked something because the vibrant colours allowed me to control the mood in the paintings more.

“Crypto Cowboy”, Crypto Cowboy 30″ by 60″, Acrylic on canvas, 2021

Staying a little bit on the same subject. How long did it take you to perfect your current painting style, before you made it public?

Well it’s far from perfect, but getting to the point I’m at now took me about 4-5 years of drawing and painting. I’ve been posting my work on Instagram throughout my entire journey so I’ve always been trying to get my work out there. I am always hoping to improve so I figure there’s no point in waiting to post the art when I think it’s perfect because then I’ll never post anything!

“Notification”, 24″ by 36″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022

Where do you find inspiration for your paintings? And who are the people that are featured?

When I first started making serious pieces, I tried to create art about historical and culturally significant moments, but I didn’t feel as personally connected to the work as I wanted to be. I realized that what worked for me was to paint what I know and that’s my life. Now I take inspiration from my everyday experiences, from going on grocery runs to money stresses to playing video games with my wife.

I go through life trying to find moments or moods that feel specific that I can also visualize as a great image, or looking for great images that I can also find a meaning and specificity behind.

“New Horizons”, 36″ by 48″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022

Your pieces are currently being exhibited at Monti 8 gallery in Latina, Italy. How did that connection come about?

That connection actually came through a collector! He found me on Instagram and put me in touch with Lea and Matteo and I was super thrilled when they asked me to be a part of the show!

“Toronto” 24″ by 30″, Acrylic on canvas, 2021

How big of a basketball fan are you, and what is your favorite team and player?

I’m a huge Toronto Raptors fan! I grew up playing and watching basketball so it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I love a young up-and-comer so I’ll say my favourite player is Scottie Barnes!

For more information about Owen, check out his Instagram and website.

“Longview” 48″ by 60″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022
“Hm”, 24″ by 30″, Acrylic on canvas, 2022
“The Photographer”, 42″ by 60″, Acrylic on canvas, 2021

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