In 1974 Dean Bowen moved from a small town in country Victoria called Maryborough to Melbourne, to attend art school at RMIT. He’s never looked back. After art school he travelled overseas for many years, and made a career for himself in the printing trade in Melbourne, France and Japan, while working on his personal art practice in the evenings and on weekends.
By 1994, Dean was settled back in Melbourne, and ready to set up his own studio. He has been working as a full-time artist since.
Dean’s multidisciplinary practice spans paintings, sculpture and printmaking. He enjoys the tide of creativity that comes from working across various disciplines. Much of Dean’s work is connected through the motif of the bird, a subject he has been exploring for the past 20 years, and one that has become central to his practice.
Dean says he was originally inspired by the ‘tic tack sound of birds running and dancing’ across his metal studio roof, a sound that eventually became an unofficial anthem for studio days. Besides birds, Dean’s extensive creative output comments on urban and country life, comets and night skies, animals and the human figure, and childhood memories through ‘a prism of humour and optimism’.
Working out of his expansive Cheltenham studio, Dean has spent the better part of this year creating works for his upcoming exhibition Currawong, which opens at Arthouse Gallery in Sydney next week. Dean says the works in this series are partially inspired by untrained and naïve artists , and by the bird paintings of some of Australia’s First Fleet artists. ‘These works celebrate the joys of everyday life, and our relationship with the urban and natural world’ Dean concludes.
Currawong by Dean Bowen
18 August to 3 September 2016
66 McLachlan Avenue
Rushcutters Bay NSW
Dean Bowen is represented by Arthouse Gallery in Sydney.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
I grew up in a small country town, Maryborough, Victoria and was always interested in art. I had some wonderful art teachers and went to Melbourne in 1974 to study printmaking at RMIT. After art school I travelled overseas for several years, then worked in the printing trade during the day and on my artworks at nights and on weekends. In 1989 I decided to make the leap of faith and to leave full-time employment to work in the studio full-time as an artist.
For many years I was fascinated with etching and lithography and worked in some wonderful studios here in Melbourne and also overseas in France and Japan. I worked in shared studios with other artists and had some wonderful mentors.
In 1994 I set up my own studio. I started to become more and more interested in painting and sculpture, which are now my main focus, as well as continuing my printmaking. All three areas are crucial to my art making, as one area informs and feeds into the other.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
My work is quirky, optimistic and humorous and underpinned by observations of everyday life with all its joys, struggles and contradictions.
In my early bird pictures I was inspired by the tic tack sound of birds running and dancing across my metal studio roof, that I would say were ‘disturbing my concentration’. Over time the bird became a classic theme in my work, alongside the iconography of other developing series such as urban and country life, comets and the starry night, animals and the human figure, childhood memories, the monumental and the miniature, all enhancing and reflecting each other through a prism of humour and optimism.
I am also very interested in and inspired by Outsider artists, untrained artists and naïve artists of all kinds. Egyptian and primitive art have had a big influence on my sculpture, as well as the works of many 20th century modernists such as Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process, and the types of materials you use?
The materials I use are oil paints, bronze, charcoal, pencils, found objects for my assemblage sculptures, copper plates for my etchings and stone and metal plates for my lithographs.
I prefer to work on one piece at a time, however that is often not possible because of commitments at the foundry with bronze casting techniques, drying issues with my oil paintings and proofing decisions with my lithography, days at the studio can be quite split up at times. Also paintings and sculpture need time, and I rework pieces and tweak different images as artworks evolve.
Through preliminary drawings my paintings do have a structure, however that framework is open to change and adaptation. I try to keep an open mind and follow the work to where it leads me.
What inspired the pieces for your upcoming exhibition at Arthouse Gallery?
In this exhibition, for the first time, new small oil painting studies of Magpies and Currawongs have developed into larger works painted on board, as my anthropomorphised birds continued to evolve.
The works are partially inspired by Outsider Art and Naïve Art and in recent times by the bird paintings of some of the Australia’s First Fleet Artists, such as George Raper and the anonymous Sydney Bird Painter.
In the exhibition ongoing themes such as the ‘Echidna’ and ‘The House of Love’ have metamorphosed into new sculptures and paintings, which celebrate the joys of everyday life and our relationship with the urban and natural world.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I arrive at the studio early and am usually painting at the easel all day, or working with wax on the creation of a sculpture. I often listen to ABC classic FM radio while I work, as well as all kinds of other music.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
I am a big fan of Jan Senbergs’ work and loved his recent Survey Exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Federation Square.
I enjoy very much Bruce Armstrong’s monumental sculptures around Melbourne.
Dorothy Berry and the Arts Projects artists are always inspiring.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
I love the depth of 20th century French artist Jean Dubuffet’s writing and philosophy on creativity alongside his artworks, themes and characters, so inspiring.
I enjoy all kinds of music, especially J.S. Bach and Mozart which take me to a creative zone when painting.
James Lord’s book, a biography on Alberto Giacometti was enormously inspiring.
Travelling to overseas countries always inspires me, and I love to do it as often as possible.
Melbourne’s wonderful skies full of incredible cloud formations and colour has inspired me in so many ways as well as the night sky and stars, especially in the countryside.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Winning some international awards in Japan for my prints and staging many solo exhibitions of my work there regularly since 1994, including a recent twenty year survey of my art at a Kyoto Gallery.
Receiving major public sculpture commissions in Melbourne, Canberra, and regional Victoria.
What would be your dream creative project?
To be commissioned to create a large scale public art sculpture in a prominent location in Melbourne’s or Sydney’s CBD.
What are you looking forward to?
My solo exhibition starting soon at Arthouse Gallery.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
The neighbourhood around my studio in Cheltenham is peaceful, a family of black rabbits graze on the grass outside, and my foundry as well as other artist friends studios are nearby.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Pappardelle with a slow braised lamb shoulder and vegetables at Ilona Staller Restaurant in Balaclava.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
After a quiet relaxing breakfast, walking in the Melbourne botanic gardens.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Not really a secret, but the kookaburras in the botanic gardens!