Robert Bowen’s work is a strange, swirling brew of colorful contradiction that is not easy to define or even understand, but that seems quite the point. Throughout his body of work, Bowen takes familiar iconography and handily corkscrews it with his own unique brand of humor and distinct painting style.
Jelly Bean Viper (detail) 24”x48”
In many cases he bestows beloved consumer mascots like the Hamburger Helper Hand, The Cinnamon Toast Crunch Guys, The Kool Aid Man and San Francisco’s own Doggie Diner head with disturbing disfigurements like cephalopod tentacles and stone skulls; or he spews rainbows and candy colored vomit from their gaping mouths or empty eye sockets. In other words, Bowen’s work is not for the weak of knees.
His works Baberaham Lincoln and Jesus Criss combine two highly recognized figures in American society with pop-culture icons and graphic metaphors in a manner that many would consider offensive. It’s hard not to be aware of the ire these works would raise in a more conservative viewer.
￼Baberaham Lincoln 9”x12”
Admittedly, Jesus Criss is one of my favorite pieces – the bright colors that emerge from inky blackness, mixed with the layered symbolism of religion, consumerism and mortality, are both thought provoking and hilarious. It embodies all the reasons that I appreciate what Robert Bowen’s work is all about.
Bowen’s ability to reappropriate contradictory symbols into unsettling situations puts him in league with greats like Ron English, and Andy Warhol. His latest solo show, ‘Candy Coated’ at San Francisco’s, Lopo Gallery, continues to walk the line between charming humor and blasphemous sarcasm with symbolic imagery that leaves the viewer both curious and confused. And I tip my hat to that.
Candy Coated: A Collection of New Works by Robert Bowen
Aug 13th – Sept 3rd
1141 polk st
San Francisco, CA
Opening Reception – Saturday, August 13 at 7:00pm – midnight
Nerd Medusa, 24”x48”
In full disclosure, I had the good fortune of meeting and befriending Bowen. I find him deeply thoughtful and focused; it has been a true pleasure to write about his work. I met him on a crazy, cool film project directed by Stephen Reedy and creative directed by artist, Alex Pardee. Below are a few photos shot by set photographer, Amanda Durbin. All I can say about the clothing is – don’t ask.
Robert Bowen and his shadow. (photo courtesy of Amanda Durbin)
“The Brothers” – Alex Pardee, Robert Bowen and Paul Bustamante. (photo courtesy of Amanda Durbin)
A few weeks after this film shoot, my partner at Purebred, Jason Mitchell and I had the pleasure of creating a series of photo portraits with Robert. The overall feeling of the series was inspired by Bowen’s work and by a simple idea he shared with me. While having coffee one morning he jokingly said, “I’m owning the rainbow. I grew up in the 80s with it on my T-shirt and Op shorts. … and I like the bright colors, my paintings are usually brightly colored. I have said that when I get cut I bleed rainbow, which is funny for a guy who only wears black!”
This all struck a cord with me since the concepts in his work are often quite dark… and thus a portrait series was born. Below are the three images we created with Robert. (NOTE: he created the spatter for the two images and in the second image he painted Thumper Bunny.)
In closing I had the chance to ask Robert the five questions I ask everyone, plus a few special ones just for him.
What artists or creative person has influenced you?
I have influences coming in from a few different directions, friends like Pardee, Wayshak, Correia, Craola, Steven Daily, Kim Scott and that crazy talented bastard SKINNER. There’s sooo many artists that inspire me. Looking at art is what made me want to be an artist in the first place. Artists like Hans Bellmer, Yeves Tanguy, Francis Bacon, Ron English, Robert Williams, Dali’, Todd Schorr, this list could go on for a while. I also get inspired by tons of music, the feelings certain songs give me are a powerful thing. T.V. and movies have also had a HUGE impact on my life as well.
Bowen in his studio. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
The look of confusion in my dogs eyes, awkward moments, conversations with friends, dreams, animals and insects. Inspiration can come from the littlest most simple things sometimes.
What is the part of your process you enjoy the most?
After the sketch is down, filling in the hollow lines with color is the most fun for me. I get to breathe life and shine light on things that don’t exist yet, Its like playing god in my own little universe.
… the least? (not including shipping, everyone hates that)
I think having to put a price on art is a horrible thing, deciding what your creativity is worth to someone else sucks.
Your imagery and symbolism is very specific and seemingly quite personal. Where does it come from? Much does come from a personal place, somewhere between childhood memories and the place where sarcasm is born.
How do you want your viewers to interpret your symbolism?
Honestly, how ever they like to. I like having and expressing my own opinions of stuff and I think the veiwer should as well.
Why is the painting Nerd Medusa dedicated to your friend and fellow artist, Dave Correia?
Only for the simple fact that Dave is a Star Wars enthusiast, he was the first person that I thought of when I decided to do this painting.
Can you talk about you unique style of creating a wash background and then painting your subjects almost floating upon it?
I like the Idea of things existing in there own distractionless environment. It makes them seem more Iconic.
If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
I’d either be a chef, I LOVE cooking!, or a vigilante of some sort. I have a problem with people who intentionally hurt, take advantage of, or try to get over on others. I’d be like Batman, but way poorer, like a ghetto Batman.
You may view more of Bowen’s work and get inside his head on his website.
Thank you so much for your time Robert. It is an honor to know you!