On the road again
by Ashley Crawford
April 2004 - AXIA Modern Art, Melbourne - Catalogue
Dean Bowen soars above suburbia. Mid-air he pauses, then flips to get a better perspective. In the distance he spies a lone driver, slightly melancholic as he trundles towards home. Below him is a ute driven by a rough and tumble farmer and spreading across the landscape are the little homes of all the little drivers; clustered sanctuaries criss-crossed with black tar roads.
Bowen's work is decidedly eccentric, and maybe the artist is too. But it's a healthy, almost joyous eccentricity. And it is certainly infectious. When many look at suburbia with a jeer of contempt, Bowen flies above them, taking it all in with a kind of wide-eyed stare. When he swerves in the air he sees things most of us miss; he would make a most excellent detective - licence plate, driver profile, interior, exterior - it's all as one to Bowen.
Bowen is renowned for his deliberate child-like renderings of animals, most especially his rounded bright yellow Birds. Many of these works were executed when Bowen had a studio at home in St Kilda where Bird-life is plentiful. But he was running out of room and began the torturous process that every artist suffers from; seeking a new studio.
Nowadays Bowen is ensconced in a large industrial warehouse in East Moorabbin. The rumble of light industry surrounds him and the only windows to the outside world come in the form of his canvases. In this space Bowen can create his own version of reality and it is a version that can best be described as quirky.
There are hints of nostalgia in these works. In Beer is Best a giant billboard dominates a crude building; it comes from a memory of driving with his father, who was a trucker, and rekindles the excitement the young Bowen felt at being allowed to go on a trip with his dad to Adelaide. The image is based on an older etching and brought back to life.
In one of the most minimal works of the show, Almost Home, a lone traveller trundles up the road at night towards the welcoming lights of home. You can feel that it has been a long, long drive home contemplating difficult ambitions and goals; getting to the end of a long road.
Bowen has flown past all facets of suburbia. In The Rough Nuts two louts crowd a car with pock-marked, red faces, their hands nowhere near the wheel. In Flying Home an overly large pilot steers his plane over the rooftops.
There is much transit in On the road again. Having grown up in rural central Victoria, Dean's parents would often drive up and down the Calder Highway. As a child, suburbia would give way to pasture a short distance from town; today the suburbs sprawl for miles.
But back to eccentricity. He's not really eccentric. Amongst his influences there are the outsider artists, untrained obsessives who over the course of history have all too often found studios in asylums. He loves Dubuffet, you can see it in his colours. And in his strange, aerial perspectives and flat graphic approach we can see hints of Australia's indigenous artists, RoverThomas, Ginger Riley and especially lan Abdullah. His elegant sculptures, such as The Long Dog, hint at the svelte approach of Giacometti.
Bowen isn't really eccentric, just passionate, a quality all too rare in the new millennium.
Dean Bowen was born in Maryborough in 1957, and studied at RMIT, receiving a Diploma in Fine Arts for printmaking in 1976, a Master of Arts Degree from Monash University in 1993, and in 1999 a PhD at Monash University for extended printmaking.
As a Painter, Printmaker and Sculptor, the one thing that combines his media is a decidedly Australian larrikin humour. It is an approach that appeals widely - he has shown in Kyoto for 10 years and held solo exhibitions in Paris, London, Osaka, Tokyo, and Geneva as well as all around Australia. He has shown in numerous group exhibitions in Australia, England, Japan, France, Korea, Egypt, USA, Brazil, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, and China. Collections that have acquired his work include Artbank, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, and Parliament House in Canberra. Dean's work is represented in numerous international collections, most notably the Bibliotheque Nationale and Atelier Franck Bordas in Paris, the National Taiwan Museum of Art and the Fukuoka Museum of Art, Fukuoka as well as Australian regional art galleries, corporate collections and collections in England and Italy.
© Ashley Crawford, April 2004