Painter challenges viewers’ imagination

When Danny Owens sits down at his corner of Panther City Coffee Co., the surrounding walls decorated with self-written poems and Bob Dylan lyrics, he’s going to work.Donning his black beret, psychedelic print shirt and matching pants, Panther City’s resident artist sits under lamplight singing Dylan to himself as he slashes across the board with his brush.

The 59-year-old self-taught artist, a former sales manager for a publishing company in Dallas, quit his job in 1986 to write, but said he soon discovered he could better express himself through painting.

Steve Watkins, who owns Panther City Coffee Co. along with his wife, described Danny as a “force of nature.”

“He’s just Danny,” Watkins said. “His work is unique, his personality is unique, his life experience is unique, and he’s just a blast to be around.”

Owens said when he paints he starts out with simple brush strokes and juxtaposes those with one another in different spots on the canvas. He then ties those elements together to complete his works.

“(The art) is through you,” Owens said. “You’re just being the lightning rod. Your responsibility as an artist is to get your own ego out of the way, and just be a child.”

Owens said his painting is different from others, because he purposely paints his pictures with no meaning.

“There’s no inherent message in my work,” he said. “It’s just there to be.”

He started to form this style, he said, after his paintings at an art show in Deep Ellum in April 1987 “fell on blind eyes.”

“I was devastated,” Owens said. “That evening I punched a hole through (painting) No. 42.”

Owens said he was not successful that day because he was self-taught, and realized he did not have anything to say in his paintings. He said he stared at painting No. 43 and began striking it with the brush and spreading the pigment out, allowing the light of the paper to shine through.

“I knew that was not going to hang in the Louvre, but I wanted to see what the colors would do,” Owens said.

Now, he has thousands of paintings hanging – from his apartment to the coffee shop to places all over the country, including Miami and New York.

Eric Neal, a singer/songwriter and Owens’ roommate, said Owens is ready to go somewhere.

“He doesn’t feel like the world owes him a living, but he feels like he’s doing something worthwhile,” Neal said. “And I think he’s doing something worthwhile.”

When Owens paints, he puts the piece onto a circular table and spins the table as he paints. This, Owens said, helps his paintings move outward.

“I consider each time I pick up a brush and a piece of foam board and breathe deeply,” Owens said. “It’s an experiment, and if it doesn’t work, I can throw it away.”

Owens said that viewers must think while looking at his paintings.

“Unless you have a sense of imagination you’re not going to enjoy my work, because there’s nothing there,” Owens said. “I intentionally put nothing there.