Time Flys. While it's hard to believe that it's already time to announce a new show at our Oakland Gallery, it's one we're certainly excited about. This month, longtime friend and incredible painter Robert Bowen will be featuring a series of new paintings that differ slightly from his past work. He writes: "This series of paintings is a bit of a departure from some of my pop-culture driven images of the past. (Not to say I won't return to that, but this is where I am at for the moment. I see both plaguing my future.) All the paintings in this show are of an animal nature, depicting birds, insects and sea life, several of which are from my Lucky Strike series that combines animals with mechanical elements or engine parts. There is a certain tragic beauty about these malfunctioning hybrid creatures, and I cannot look away. They are a constant source of inspiration." Come check it out! UNNATURAL SELECTION New works by Robert BowenOpening Reception - Saturday, December 8th, 5pm-8pm ZeroFriends Gallery - 489 A 25th Street, Oakland CA The First 45 people to show up for the opening reception will receive a free print, signed and numbered by Robert Bowen. (Only one print per person. You must be in attendance to receive the print.) To view more of Bowen's work, visit his website RobertBowenArt.com In the meantime, enjoy a sneak preview below:
In case you missed it, Alex had the opportunity to interview Bowen as a featured artist for the August 2012 issue of Juxtapoz. If you want to learn more about Bowen's process, inspirations, or how much of an inspiration he is to us here at ZeroFriends, read the article below!
As a Lincoln Continental, Odd Nerdrum & tentacle fetishist with a healthy diet of Play-Doh, Christian Brothers, Salvadore Dali, Sid & Marty Kroft, exploitation movies & Jimboys tacos, Robert Bowen had one of the most unique and shocking approaches to art that I had ever seen in the late 90’s time. Simply put, he painted what he wanted and how he wanted. That was it. And he was completely unapologetic about it. It baffled me! In a time when alternative art was beginning to become marketable at the smallest level and everyone, including myself, was trying to paint what OTHER people would like, hoping that one of our super edgy half-assed big-pants, big-hands characters with spray cans would be the next big thing, Robert was publicly painting flowers with vaginas and deformed blobs with dental problems. It fascinated me, and it changed the way I approached my art. Since that time, over 15 years later, Robert remains one of my best friends and artistic influences, and has exhibited his often hilariously unsettling paintings around the world, his technical skills with acrylic paints have been improving exponentially piece by piece, while his attitude remains the same. He paints what he WANTS to paint. Plain and simple.
I sat down with Robert for a friendly chat in his studio on a sunny summer afternoon, not much different from the day we met. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
One of the things I find fascinating about your paintings is that they give a lot of life to icons and symbols that usually only exist in 2 dimensions.
For the last 5 or 6 years in fact, I have viewed your paintings as “Pop-Culture Still Lifes”. Is it safe to say that pop-culture fascinates you?
Definitely, I’m a self proclaimed “T.V. Baby”. Movies, Music, music videos, shitty reality T.V. I was totally one of those kids whose baby sitter was the T.V. Not that I didn't have any friends or didn't play outside. I did all the normal things kids do, but when I was inside my eyes were glued to the T.V. Soaking it all in.
Television often has a reputation of stripping people of their creativity, but that’s obviously not the case with you because your paintings are extremely imaginative. Has pop-culture always been a part of your life?
As far as I can remember it has. Movies, music, television, I've always loved all of it. I was the kid in the Michael Jackson jacket recreating scenes from E.T. and the Star Wars movies. I always wanted to be Han Solo.
Really?? Me too! Well, I wanted to be Boba Fett, so we would have been mortal enemies, but whatever.
So a lot of your early work was very surreal, often times a collection of imaginative, heaping organic masses that conveyed a lot of mixed emotions to the viewer. Your newer work conveys the same mixed emotions, funny yet sadistic, sad yet resilient, etc. but the emotions are conveyed via pop culture icons. When was the transition into actually incorporating pop culture into your paintings?
A lot of that earlier stuff was probably a direct result of my art school rebellion. They wanted me to paint figures and still lifes, so instead I painted giant visceral organic blobs with spikes, protruding bones, teeth and vaginas. It was really pleasant and beautiful stuff! While all that was fun and all, it wasn't fully me, there was something missing. It seemed natural to incorporate things that were fascinating and already plaguing my psyche. That’s when pop culture started creeping in.
A lot of these icons repeat in different capacities over the span of 3 or 4 of your paintings. Is there a conscious decision to continue exploring these icons from the beginning?
Maybe not from the beginning, but sometimes I feel like either I maybe didn't get it right the first time, or we have some unfinished business. Or the fact that I might have just needed to do it bigger and better.
Speaking of bigger and better, your subject matter varies a lot, but you have incorporated a hefty amount of iconic Disney elements and characters into a lot of your larger paintings and even some sculptures. Disney characters aren’t traditionally associated with deformities, puking and vaginas. Why do you choose to incorporate Disney characters into your paintings as opposed to other cartoons?
Walt Disney’s creations are some of my earliest memories. Contrary to what most people may think when they look at the way I may paint some of those characters, I love all that stuff. It’s fun to me to paint those icons in a style that fits into my subconscious wasteland.
In addition to just pop-culture, you’ve adapted a lot of seemingly random and mundane objects into your paintings over the course of a few years. In particular, items like the chattering teeth, seagulls, and bees. Is there any significance to these items in your life?
I’ve always thought some of the simpler creatures that we overlook on an everyday basis need a little more attention, so I sometimes work them into a painting perhaps doing something a little extraordinary, like puking a rainbow, wearing a mask, or stealing a little magic stone. I want those creatures to feel special! I think they need to have fun too. The teeth thing? That’s a whole different story. They are basically the physical manifestation of my social anxiety; the awkward joke; the courtesy laugh. The teeth represent the need for me to find humor in some of the uncomfortable social situations I find myself in. I purposely paint each one different. They are far from perfect teeth and ugly for a reason.
There is definitely a lot of humor in your paintings, but there are also some hard emotions portrayed as well. Is it that particular anxiety you mentioned something that fuels your need to create? Or is the art used to counteract those emotions?
It’s a bit of both. I feel the anxiety may be what fuels my need to create, as it’s hard for me to get out of my head sometimes, if that makes any sense. Sitting and taking time to slow myself down and create is very calming for me. So in that way it’s used to counteract certain emotions, but at the same time it’s those emotions that are sometimes the catalyst behind the painting in the first place. It’s a wonderfully vicious cycle.