As a prominent figure within the Melbourne art scene, veteran Australian artist Dean Bowen has been developing and refining his art practice for over 40 years, expanding on his ability to work within a range of different mediums. In a recent interview, Bowen opened up about the reality in which he practices, utilising imagination through real-life events as inspiration for much of his childlike imagery.
From an early age, Bowen knew that he wanted to be an artist, ‘I was very excited by art and printmaking in particular, and in the 70s I ended up at RMIT studying the art form. Even though I have branched out as an artist now, I’m still really fascinated by it.’ Discovering lithographs through his love for print making and passion for exploration Bowen also developed an interest in diversifying and expanding his capabilities as an artist later in his career: ‘I wanted to develop as more of a creative artist so I became more and more interested in sculpture. In the early 90s, I started making my first bronze sculptures; they were a springboard for me to develop my work.’ Becoming heavily inspired by the work of artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti, Bowen began to expand his experimentation resulting in the division of his work into three main parts: painting, sculpture (such as bronzes and assemblages) and original prints. ‘It is a good mixture of things that feed off each other,’ says the artist. As a born and bred Australian artist, Bowen believes one of the greatest aspects of working here is the sense of freedom we have. However, he considers ‘Australia has both its advantages and disadvantages, there isn’t a rich history of art here, like for example renaissance art, yet we do have a great history of Aboriginal art and there are some amazing works being produced by Aboriginal communities.’ Despite this, Bowen states that ‘there’s a feeling of freedom, great potential and peace here,’ with another advantage being more space here in Australia, and ‘the chance for artists to have bigger studios and more room to work and grow.’ This sense of freedom has contributed to his ability to diversify his practice, allowing him to get out of his comfort zone and helping him grow. Not only is he extremely versatile as an artist, Bowen also uses this diversity for creation to explain that ‘an idea can start as an etching, then into a painting, then into a sculpture, or go the other way around.’ An amazing and flexible way to work, Bowen claims that ‘It’s great because things cascade into each other’, allowing his pieces to reach their full potential through a medium that represents the work better.
While his aptitude for being an all-rounder artist gives him the opportunity to create amazing pieces, it is possible to see that the unique childlike aesthetic of Bowen’s work is what allows him to stand out amongst other artists. When asked about what drives him to work within this particular manner, Bowen believes that ‘our imagination is one of the most powerful things we have,’ explaining ‘When you’re young and in primary school, play is like a game. Yet when you’re an adult, play is more complex, described differently and means something else; it’s about research, experimentation, discovery and working.’ By understanding the simple yet compelling reason for Bowen’s choice in creating these images, it is easy to appreciate his desire to create wholesome artwork; going onto state that ‘one of the most important narratives in my work is that I’m trying to create life-affirming pictures, I see a lot of sadness and depression in society so my message is more positive and optimistic, focusing on things like hope and discovery. The world is wonderful, and my work reflects that.’ However, when addressing the topic of his work has an aesthetic that carries over into every piece, Bowen explains that he will try not to repeat the same thing, ‘I try to avoid that and bring another angle to my work’ as a way of keeping it fresh.
In, ‘Home is where the Heart is’, the narrative of ‘home’ is explored closely throughout many of the pieces Bowen has created over the past decade. While many of his works include a variety of paintings and sculptures, the roots of Bowen’s original love and introduction to art are very much present in this exhibition, with a series of lithographs depicting unusual birds in hilarious fashion. In one of his latest prints, Red Canary and Ladybird Army (2016), the artist depicts a slightly anthropomorphic bird beside a group of ladybirds. Bowen amusingly states “the birds are quirky, a little too big and fat with tiny legs,’ laughing that ‘there isn’t really a definite meaning which I love, I mean are the ladybirds about to be lunch for the bird or are they friends?’ While this certainly ties back into his desire to create life-affirming artwork, Bowen also believes that as an artist, ‘one of the greatest joys is when you make something that sort of snuck up on you, and that you thought you couldn’t make’ – a lovely statement that proves Bowen’s abilities not only as an artist but as a man with a passion and a heart.
Dean Bowen would like to thank Jacquie Nichols-Reeves for curating his work at the Whitehorse Artspace.
Until 28 July, 2018