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Small-scale fantasy drawings at Gallery Joe


(Maegan appreciates the intricacies of several ink-on-paper works, and considers how an artist might choose to let go of her work. — the Artblog editors)

Showing this month at Gallery Joe is Astrid Bowlby’s Sample (d)(r).  The artist has chosen to display 15 sets of two drawings each.  The drawings are barely discernibly different from one another and are composed of ink and mixed media.  Only one of the drawings from each set is for sale: the buyer’s choice. Bowlby will keep the drawing that remains from each set.

Letting go after creating

Bowlby says, “The title of the exhibition, Sample (d)(r), says a lot. I am making pairs of drawings that are very, very similar, but not exactly the same. I work on them at the same time and have no hierarchical feeling toward them. I keep one and the other one can go away. Someone else gets to choose. There is no original, really. They are samples of each other…This concept is in response to a deep-seated feeling of loss in my studio and an inability to reconstruct a train of thought through memory only.”

Flowers (versions (1, a) and (1, b)) Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Ink on paper mounted to panel.
Flowers (versions (1, a) and (1, b)), Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Ink on paper mounted to panel.

“Flowers” is a dense ink drawing; I was attracted by the movement of this piece.  The delicate flowers seem to jump around the page like a television test pattern. The stylization of the piece recalls notebook doodles: something done consciously but also unconsciously, an interesting contrast.

 Chrysanthemum (versions (1, a) and (1, b)) Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Watercolor and colored pencil on paper mounted to panel.

“Chrysanthemum” is a finely rendered line drawing resembling a flower, done in watercolor and colored pencil. I feel there is some optical illusion going on with this piece, but I can’t put my finger on it. The lightness of the lines is praise-worthy. The simplicity of the design is the strength of this piece.

A playful piece to chew on

Scoopy Peanut (versions (1, a) and (1, b)) Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Cat hair and chewing gum mounted to panel.
“Scoopy Peanut” (versions (1, a) and (1, b)), Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Cat hair and chewing gum mounted to panel.
detail of Scoopy Peanut Astrid Bowlby, 2013.
detail of “Scoopy Peanut,” Astrid Bowlby, 2013.

Composed of cat hair and chewing gum, “Scoopy Peanut” might just have stolen the show. In terms of materials used, it is the most radically unusual piece in the show, and creates a nice counterpoint to the impenetrable drawings around it. I’m not sure what the title means, but am pleased with its mystery and playfulness (I hope it’s a play on the cat’s name). This piece had a wonderful texture, and the chewing gum created a mesmerizing focal point.

Bowlby’s interest in this show seems to lie in the realm of scaled-down fantasy renderings, but I wonder where this particular piece came from. Though wildly different from the other works in the show, it somehow still seems to belong.

Calvin as a One-Legged Chicken (versions (1, a) and (1, b)) Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted to panel.
“Calvin as a One-Legged Chicken” (versions (1, a) and (1, b)), Astrid Bowlby, 2013. Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted to panel.

The subject “Calvin” appears in several of Bowlby’s works in this show, in interpretive pieces wherein “Calvin” takes on different aspects.  In one, “Calvin” is a wheelbarrow, and here, he is a one-legged chicken.  I am not sure who “Calvin” is, but these abstract portraits express a spirited relationship between the artist and the subject.

These pieces have a decidedly more graphic feel than the other works in the show.  The paint is applied without modulation in tone. Instead, the artist has stippled the surface of these pieces to add dimension and texture.

One stays while the other remains

Viewing the show, I was having trouble finding a word to describe the style of the works. I realized that Bowlby’s work creates a visceral mood. Each of these sets of drawings feels instinctive, and produces a definitive, satisfying gut reaction. I couldn’t help but wonder which of the two drawings a buyer might choose. There are hardly any notable differences between each piece in a set.

The artist’s decision to offer one work from each set up for the choosing is enigmatic; I also wonder at the “feeling of loss” Bowlby mentions. Is the decision to keep one work an attempt to balance this feeling?

With all of the emotion and thought poured into artistic works, it is not shocking that an artist would experience something akin to loss when works are sold. I would be interested to see which drawings remain in Bowlby’s possession once the show ends, and how she’ll build on her “train of thought” in future shows.

Sample (d)(r) will be on display at Gallery Joe until January 18th. More information can be found at the gallery’s website.