Studio Visit: Anthony Bowers

posted in: Kathy Cho, Studio Visits | 0

I first experienced Anthony Bower’s work through his website and approached him about featuring Fools Gold. As we corresponded via email, he clarified for me that what I perceived to be separate pieces in a room was an entire installation with many components: “I think of each object in an installation as semi-autonomous, each piece having a life of its own that is relevant and honest, but the interaction between the objects gives them more to say. They inform on each other, they tattle and tell. Creating a space where those interactions make the room hum at a certain tenor is what I am really searching for.”

“Humor and its opposite, maybe melancholy or mourning, both deal with loss but in different ways. They are a form of comfort found through distancing oneself. They are contrasting ways of finding relief in a larger perspective. On its own, each is easily understood but held together both forms of distance start to negate each other in interesting ways, creating contradictions and ambiguities.”

Like any good religion, art should be full of ambiguities. Opposing propositions ought to be true at the same time, placing the onus of meaning on context as well as content; viewer as well as maker. As I oscillate between humor and melancholy, gritty and sublime, painting and sculpture, work and play, I am search for ambiguities like a boy looking for toads in window wells, keeping in mind that the art is in the searching and not the toads.”

A few weeks later, I met Anthony for the first time at his opening at Fjord gallery where amidst the bustle of the first Friday art crowd we chatted for a bit about the Philly art scene, time spent in Chicago, and the work in the group show. Anthony graciously invited me over for a studio visit very recently where we got to spend some more quiet moments in contrast to our first encounter.

His studio is located in the Crane Arts building in the Northern Liberties/Fishtown area of Philadelphia, which houses many artist studios as well as gallery and art/design production spaces. As I arrived, the sun started setting and we were able to catch the end of it from his studio window and then upstairs on the roof. Anthony spoke for a bit while staring at the new, boxy condos which have become a familiar sight in that area of town. We could see a couple walking around through their contemporary floor to ceiling windows, just doing what anyone would expect regular young adults to do on a Sunday night relaxing at home.

Installation view of Blind Handshake exhibition, courtesy of FJORD
Installation view of Blind Handshake exhibition, courtesy of FJORD

It turns out this was the perfect segue into looking at his current work: a series of paintings he has been working in which he goes to areas within walking distance of his studio and paints the forms of these new condo constructions from observation. In conversation, we touched upon the visibility and aesthetics of gentrification in Philadelphia and beyond, and the reality of looking for a different studio space within the city as he is expecting to get priced out of his current space.

Anthony often works with the medium of painting but approaches it with different methods depending on what he’s working towards and thinking about. One of the pieces that he showed at Fjord, a more sculptural painting with images projected onto it (seen on the right in photo), brought attention to the illusion and division of space, an idea often revisited in various works. He mentioned that some children who were at the opening were super engrossed with walking in front of the projection and interacting with the piece.

He also spoke about how he incorporates found materials in his work, including most recently, a large approximately 5’x5’ mirror that someone in the city was throwing out and electric blue tulle. Lately, he has been thinking about what he sees as a midwest sensibility, a divide in knowledge where the women from his life in that region seemed to know so much about handicrafts such as sewing and different types of fabrics. He connects this gendered history to the materials that he finds and then manipulates in his work.

“What really draws me to those materials is not their gendered nature but their cultural authenticity… I’m not even sure that I believe in authenticity as a concept, but found materials and textiles used in handicrafts from my childhood offer some hope for an un-ironic take on white middle class life in an art environment that is in many ways still defined by gender and racial identity on one hand or rehashed, warmed-over modernist abstraction on the other.”

He shared with me a book he made recently, A place to live, a place to work. All of the pages were screen printed at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, where he recently completed his apprenticeship. For me, it is always interesting to see how an artist’s sensibility and choices translate and fluctuate as they work with different mediums. Anthony’s choices in color and form transitions seamlessly between his observational paintings and more object-based works, creating a recognizable language from his point of view. Anthony’s practice definitely draws upon his everyday: each moment relative to the next, with the present and the past constantly bumping up against each other.

A place to live, a place to work, 2014
A place to live, a place to work, 2014

At the end of our visit, he showed me another book, full of scans of notes and drawings from his personal sketchbooks. I was excited to see how Anthony played around with the idea of archiving by mimicking the actual design of a recognizable composition notebook. The book achieved formal qualities as close to the real thing as possible while juxtaposing pages that were scanned at different points in time so that the bleeds from the marker drawings and notes through the pages didn’t always contain quite the same information on both sides.

“I scanned the book all at one time and then edited out information digitally as a means of editing but also to make the action of turning the page feel like a transition in time. The drawings in that book are from one sketchbook, each page relating to the last in some way as a time-based, performative drawing… Like improv but using my last drawing as a prompt instead of someone else.”

We ended our night by wandering into the studio of a friend of his in the same building. Then all three of us walked over to grab a couple of drinks and chat at a bar nearby. Upcoming, Anthony will continue to teach drawing at Drexel University, making art in a new studio at the Queen Building in Grays Ferry and is excited to attend the Golden Foundation Residency.