Terraform: Elizabeth Bowler
The Tournesol Award recognizes one Bay Area-based painter each year with a generous cash prize and a year long studio residency. Elizabeth Bowler’s self-illuminated, sculptural paintings depict transient topographies of light and livingness. The Luggage Store hosts Bowler’s solo exhibition, Terraform, which culminates her 2015–16 Tournesol Award residency, and runs through August 6. Bowler will give an artist talk at The Luggage Store on Wednesday, July 20 at 6PM.
Offsite: The exhibition, opening reception, and artist talk are held at The Luggage Store, located at 1007 Market Street (nr. 6th St.), San Francisco, CA 94103. Click here for directions.
Elizabeth Bowler’s Terraform, by Kathryn Barulich
Elizabeth Bowler’s “paintings” ripple, almost breathing as they push and pull toward and away. Invoking corporeality in their scale by eerily relating to the size of the human body, their protrusions and recessions complicate the irregular forms. Looking at the concave puckers tightly pulling toward the painting’s mysterious centers compels one to take a sharp breath inward. These discreet bodies are held in constant tensions of expulsion and retreat, attack and surrender, as stabbing and jutting protrusions violently enter the viewer’s space. Bowler’s canvases propose an imperfect skin—bruised, scarred, and puckered—as they settle on their voluminous structures. These works are vessels with vacancy for a consciousness, or, dare I say, a soul.
The sculptural paintings alter the conventional stretcher bar foundation, creating a multitude of geometries. The traditionally rectangular frames push outward, downward, and sideways through contending spaces of expansion and retraction. These actions are informed by sacred–or canonized–geometry, working to produce haptic sensations in the viewing experience. By operating in the context of phenomenology, wherein one subjectivity is intentionally directed toward another, the work elicits visceral reactions.
Bowler creates a mixture of pigment and oil medium to formulate her paint materials. In so doing, she calls on the history of painting. Furthermore, the paintings employ rabbit skin glue, a strong adhesive once used to seal King Tutankhamen’s casket. The glue tightly binds the muslin surfaces to their supports. By nature, muslin is tighter and more fragile than canvas, allowing for the creation of dramatic shadows, bends, and contortions.
Light is the oeuvre’s informant and stage. The artist has been following the sun’s cycle, marking the ever-changing natural light with a palette of grays, browns, and whites. As the sunlight changes, her works are activated differently, as layers of drips, marks, and strokes of paint are illuminated or concealed to reveal the painting’s pasts. Even as the sun sets, these works remain active to present a more solid colored surface that seems to have fused with its muslin base. Though all works are informed by a study of natural light, Bowler also investigates artificial light by enshrouding it within the painting’s structure. The artificial light not only illuminates the paintings’ interiors, but also positions them in conversation with the exterior, natural light, and other works.
Bowler innovates scale, and material, and light to to construct complex and profound forms that reach out to and pull away from the viewer. She sets a scene for her works to play out a drama—one that will never be resolved, and continues to unfold in a multitude of evolving relations.