An outsider’s view of Dallas is of a bustling metropolis, ripe with new development and bright lights. Long-term residents see something else: a landscape rich and layered with checkered stories and memories of years gone by. This nuanced perspective — equal parts memory and observation — is captured vividly in the work of Dallas native Kim Cadmus Owens. Owens’ “Lost + Found” series reflects the artist’s interest in the digital realm as a means of representation and recollection. It also speaks to the importance she places on witnessing moments that we often, and quickly, pass by.
“As I revisit sites within what I think of as my hometown, I continually discover and witness rapid development and change,” Owens says. “I have often found myself at an intersection and felt as if I knew I was in the right location — but something was missing; what I had used in the past as a navigational landmark was gone.”
Creation of the “Lost + Found” series began with hand drawings and photographs taken of each physical site, nine in total. Owens began with the “Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts,” a motel that once existed along the western leg of Commerce Street. She then converted each image and drawing through a process that transformed a vector image into layers of color separation. This separation is apparent throughout the finished work in layers of colored lines. After converting the images to acrylic plates, Owens used a letterpress to scribe each layer onto cotton paper. “The use of color and focus on figure/ground in the positive/negative spaces emphasizes architectural profiles, or ‘silhouettes,’ embodied by voids, which are revealed by embossing,” she says. “The printing action is intended to capitalize on physical impression through the embossing and/or debossing nature of the process.”
Owens subscribes to the notion that the mere acts of experimentation and making can manifest unexpected value — and the process behind the “Lost + Found” series bears the serendipitous mark of such trial and error, especially of challenges that arose as a result of the technical limitations of letterpress; in particular, plate materials and thickness. In order to limit warping of the plate and create a laser-engraved template thick enough to ensure a deep impression for printing, Owens paired with Artifacture, a local design-build studio that specializes in laser cutting. The transfer and layering of three to four color variations proved to be a tedious task. A misalignment of as little as a 32nd of an inch on an antique press would result in undesired bleeding of color.
The carefully scribed vectoring throughout each piece, key in the execution of the series, unifies the “Lost + Found” set. A common
thread within Owens’ extensive portfolio, the line work intricately layers upon itself to capture the viewer’s attention and direct the eye toward the subject matter. The experience is one of implied direction and velocity; the images appear to be taken from the perspective of a viewer who is merely passing by. This impression, of time passing quickly and irrevocably, perhaps best showcases the viewpoint from which Owens witnesses the world.
The Statler Hilton print depicts the most intact place within the series. Line work is concentrated to create a vivid picture of the architecture that still remains largely unaltered today. Void space beyond the architecture focuses inward toward the prominent, sweeping form of the tower as the structure rises toward the western corner of Commerce and Saint Paul. The white space calls attention to the sheer mass of the structure, which was, upon completion in 1956, the largest hotel project in Texas. The building is slated to be converted back into a Hilton-branded hotel and mixed-use development by late 2016, through a design that respects the original mid-century modern aesthetic.
Owens’ depiction of the old Dallas High School, a long-contested site for development within the eastern portion of downtown Dallas, is perhaps the starkest contrast to the Statler. Though the old Dallas High School has been targeted on multiple occasions for redevelopment, the project remains one of the most endangered pieces of architecture in the state of Texas. In Owens’ portrait of the structure, the architecture is void of line work, which is confined primarily to the surrounding environment. Though the building currently stands, Owens captures the emptiness of a piece of architectural history that has been cleared of all ornamentation, save boarded-up windows over the facade’s punched openings.
The “Lost + Found” series is a striking reminder of the importance awareness plays in the preservation of place. “I think of landscape and its structures in terms of their contributions to the historical record and urban anthropology,” the artist says. Owens’ work serves as a vivid reminder of the Dallas that remains as well as of the city’s almost forgotten architectural markers; it creates a dialogue that reflects the constant flux and activity within our daily lives, and asks that we, as viewers, take a moment to step back and observe.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is a designer with the Dallas office of Callison.
Originally published in the July/August 2015 issue of Texas Architect.