Denis Bowen was not an artist I knew about, I’m ashamed to say. That’s why I love discovering people’s stories and seeing how they influence my life and inspire me. I recently viewed Bowen’s work at Dean Clough gallery in Halifax and here’s what I learnt – Bowen was a south African born artist and promoter of British Avant-Garde and Abstract Art. He was founder of the New Vision Group and the New Vision Centre Gallery, both of which played an important role in the post-World War II British art scene. I guess I feel a deeper connection to his background because he was raised by his aunt in Huddersfield (my own home town).
I was impressed that such an influential artist lived in my region and it really inspired me to stretch my creative wings.
I did what I always do when viewing art for the first time. Never read the curator’s biographies or background information. I always view the entire collection from a far distance to get a remote sense of atmosphere from all the work viewed collectively, to test how it makes me feel. In this case I got a feeling that is hard to articulate but it was a sense of power and strength from the work, the colours, the proportions of the vast canvases and a sense of universe and primal being. Then I stroll to each piece and look, I look really hard, I scan every inch of every canvas from a distance and then up close. I get an immediate sense of feeling and then I study the technical use of paint, texture, effects from a learning point of view to see how the artist layered colour or even choice of materials.
Bowen’s work made me thinking of the lunar landings, of planetary forms, the molten lava of creation, hot crusts, rock and layers of gemstone formations and geography lessons. In some pieces I felt a connection to what it is to be irrelevant in the vastness of the universe, a dream state that made me feel a lonely, existentialism but also an appreciation of the beauty of life amongst the infinite vastness of eternity and the universe. Whew when I read that back, Bowen forced me to have some deep thoughts, to consider some big stuff, this is the power of art and that’s why I love it. It transcends everything and taps into something in our unconscious state that understands it in a way our conscious minds could never.
Reading the plaques on the walls of the gallery, reinforced some themes and suggested interpretations but it’s kind of irrelevant really, what I see is what I see, what I feel is what I feel and I’m glad I don’t read then look.