Expanse | Mark Bowles
Thursday, October 7, 2021, marks the fifth and final Telluride Arts’ Art Walk of the summer/fall season. At Slate Gray Gallery Telluride, “Expanse,” features the work of artist Mark Bowles. In Kerrville, Bowles’ work is featured alongside the art of Tamara Ruiz. That show is titled “People and Places” and is up through October 15th.
The job of true art is not to explain, rather to evoke. Case in point is the latest work by Slate Gray artist Mark Bowles in a show titled “Expanse.”
Two critics underline the idea:
“Recent paintings (by Mark Bowles) suggest vaguely familiar land masses and agrarian fields of central California, but they are clearly imaginative responses not intended to be read as literal. They balance the familiar with the highly personal. These are not landscapes in a classical sense that ask us to pinpoint a precise location.
“Instead, we are seeing landscapes of the mind. We are seeing Mark’s responses to his lived experience and his shifting reactions brought on by various sites over time. Looking closely at the combination of colors and forms, we are rewarded not by trying to find the specificity of place, but by connecting with the artist’s emotions and personal feelings about nature,” said Jerry N. Smith, PhD, Curator of American and Western American Art, Phoenix Art Museum.
“Through his art, Mark Bowles proves it is possible to be both bold and subtle at the same time. At first glance, the bold colors and minimal obvious detail catch your attention, but closer inspection reveals subtle variations and much additional information. Built up on an underlying abstract framework, contrasting colors resonate to convey the essence of the scene he is depicting…,” Seth Hopkins, Executive Director, Booth Western Art Museum.
In other words, while Bowles’ images do suggest details such as the topography of a site, the location of mountains relative to water, trees and such, they more accurately describe the emotions certain special places stirred in the artist.
“My comfort level is California landscape for sure, but I love the West and Southwest in general… love traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada. We had a second home for about 10 years down in LaQuinta (southeastern California desert by Palm Springs), so the traveling back and for through the Central Valley of California has shaped a lot of my paintings. Lately however, I think I am more influenced by my travels through the Southwest. When you see the colors and shapes that are unique to those parts of our country, you can’t help but react with awe. And then when you take in the culture of Native Americans and people who actually work the land that introduces yet another compelling element into the Big Picture. Because they are so big and grand, if our eyes are wide open to those surroundings, the landscapes of the West generate a sense of solitude, peace and quiet. It is Mother Nature, with few distractions, in her full glory.”
Bowles explained more about his life and work (which tend to blend) in an email exchange with Telluride Inside.. and Out (TIO) as follows:
TIO: The opening statement of your bio reads: “I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and have painted all my life.” Are the place of your birth and the fact you have painted forever in some way related? Was there something in the air in the Bay Area that made you want to paint? Did you grow up in a family of artists? In the Bay Area did you find an extended family of artists?
MB: Growing up in the Bay Area, I think, gave me an early start in my appreciation of art. My mother was an artist. She was a ceramicist and painter so that activity and discussion was always going on in the house. Both my parents collected art, loved supporting younger starting-out artists, went to gallery shows, fairs and museums. Living in the Bay Area you are surrounded by UC Berkeley, SF University, Stanford, and California College of Arts and Crafts (where I attended). Living in proximity of colleges, you are inundated by new ideas and experimentations from “youth.” Also, the area is somewhat affluent so in San Francisco you have some of the best galleries in the world. I used to go all the time to SFMOMA and SF galleries to study Richard Diebenkorn, David Parks, Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira Peter Voulkos; a favorite was Stephen De Staebler. We had SFMOMA, the Oakland Museum and Berkeley Museum so being exposed to all of this incredible art and being in homes where they were hanging on the walls it was never a distant jump for me to think I could be an artist and have a successful career.
TIO: Had you ever considered a career outside fine art?
MB: I did not, but my father sure did. He knew the odds of being able to sustain a decent living so he wanted me to be able to be a transcriber (he was a court reporter) so I learned how to type 70 words per minute, which was fun for about five minutes. I learned later in life that I was dyslexic so reading and math were not favorite subjects; drawing and painting were. Soon I got some positive reinforcements from my drawing and painting and most people follow positivity.
TIO: Who and/or what were you earliest artistic influences? Whose work do you admire most today? Whose work do you emulate? (The answer could be a combo of artists living and dead.)
MB: Well, again it would be Bay Area artists mostly — Bay Area figurative, Bay Area abstract expressionism, the Carmel school, and the Taos School all have been great influences. Definitely Rothko, and Diebenkorn for color and composition and line quality. I am in a community where Greg Kondos and Wayne Thiebaud live — they are lifelong friends of each other and have painted together for years. Greg is a good friend and has always a critique of work (he taught for 30 years at the college level). But he and his wife Moni have helped me navigate the art business and help guide my career.
TIO: You say you are agnostic when the subject is subject matter: still life, the human figure, or landscape. So who or what are your muses? What inspires you to paint if not a particular subject?
MB: The process of painting is something incredibly special in my life. Just the act of painting and then the dialog that you build with the canvas. Its really is an internal dialogue with yourself, a cathartic lesson let’s say, but I am always learning when I am painting, I am setting up situations I need to resolve and have certain ideals that have to be met, like the painting has to make your eye move around, it has to have balance of color, line etc. It really has to take on a life of its own to be successful.n There are times I don’t feel inspired to paint, however, if I just pick up the brush, dip it in paint and hit the canvas, I am off.Time ceases to matter. The outside world no longer matters. It is me and the canvas and may the best man win!
Summing up, Bowles’ acrylics lie at the nexus of realism and abstraction. It is easy to read land, horizon line and sky in his art, but they are best described as “soul-scapes,” powerful, unapologetic “reads” of the regions of choice, the West and Southwest, written in a palette of eye-popping colors.
“Painting is my commitment, my passion and my fulfillment. I am honored by those who find inspiration from my work,”concludes the artist.
Coming attractions in Telluride, Winter 2021/2022:
December: Featured artist, Ryan Bonneau
January: Featured artist, Karen Scharer
February: Featured artist, Silvio Porzionato
March: Featured artist, Topher Straus