Last Chance for Perspectivism
When artist Jack Bowers visited the Aspen Art Museum in 1980, he migrated up to the second floor in search of a Duane Hansen sculpture he’d heard was part of the exhibit. He turned a corner and came upon it: the life-like figure of a woman standing to the side of the room, gazing at another sculpture beyond. Then, suddenly, the woman turned and moved away to reveal the actual Duane Hansen sculpture behind her—life-like, inanimate, and hiding in plain sight.
In that moment, Bowers felt the rug pulled out from under his assumptions about the piece, about art, and about the nature of reality as we perceive it. He still recalls the moment with vivid clarity these many years later, and he hopes to conjure it for viewers in Perspectivism, his exhibit at Art Center Waco that closes on Saturday, November 5.
Let the Art Do the Talking
Perspectivism is a diverse collection of multi-textured, mixed media, multi-disciplined artworks from the ever-curious and flexible mind of Jack Bowers. The artist’s statement on the wall and the very brief “romance cards,” as Jack Bowers’ wife, Sherri, calls the placards next to each artwork, provide only the barest bit of guidance to the viewer. Bowers wants to challenge your assumptions about the way you perceive reality, and he’s happy to let his art lead the conversation.
“They say seven is the age of reason,” says Bowers. “My four-year-old grandson is not really cooking up stuff. At four years old, all he does is live. Emerson is a big hero of mine and in one of his essays, ‘Self-Reliance,’ he has a line about ‘the nonchalance of boys who are sure of their dinner,’ and that is a wonderful way to look at the world. Because all kids are doing is just living. They do whatever they want. I’d like to get back to that somehow, have someone experience that present moment. What I’m really interested in is having a person discover that they have something to say about what they’re doing.”
In the absence of a dogmatic explanation or direction, one is freed to follow one’s instincts throughout Perspectivism, creating a more personal narrative of the exhibit through impressions, questions, and—hopefully—revelations. This approach also reflects Bowers’ conviction that we alter reality by how we perceive it, and that by changing our perceptions, we are able to alter reality and, ultimately, ourselves.
A Trick of the Eye
You will find trompe l’oeil everywhere as you make your way through the eclectic pieces on display—one of Bowers’ many techniques for sparking moments of surprise.
A flat-seeming canvas cylinder painted in variegated blues is actually a sheet of aluminum that has been cut to Bowers’ digital design specifications, then bent and pulled further into the third dimension so that up close, the cylinder opens to reveal a curved inner recess. Until you get up close to it, the piece looks like a smooth-planed surface. And unless you walk around it, you won’t notice the orange aura of light emanating from its invisible painted posterior, creating a secret, fiery shadow on the wall.
Nearby, a three-by-five-foot gray box, entitled Full Frontal Frame, resembles a flattened takeout container hanging over a lightly shaded window. From the perspective of the bench in the middle of the exhibit several feet away, the box appears perfectly flat and ephemeral, as if it is part of the translucent window shade, and without a detectable front or back.
Walk nearer, and the box begins to shift and stretch out toward you, its shadow underneath becoming more solid. Once you’re within touching distance, you’ll realize the box is 3-dimensional aluminum, painted in multiple shades of gray to further the sense of depth and shadow, and entirely perforated with holes, like a colander. From start to finish, the act of viewing the piece is a bit like watching an origami shape unfold.
Another example of dueling perspectives is in this explanatory video for Open Box Open Mind, an entry in the Best Illusion of the Year competition.
The Meditative Process
Another tool of Bowers for creating visual puzzles is the Penrose tile. As an exhibit placard explains, “Penrose tiling is an aperiodic pattern that doesn’t repeat,” named after the mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose. Several digital paintings feature Bowers’ meditative, repeating patterns of Penrose tiles, created in a digital design program and randomly assigned a color, one square at a time.
“Penrose decided he would try to figure out a way to mathematically demonstrate infinity,” says Bowers, “so he came up with Penrose tiles. They are only two tiles, a thin rhomboid and a thick rhomboid, and they’re periodic. If you put them together, they will expand in a certain infinite way with no rhyme or reason… they just keep going. You can build them in a way that is very symmetric, but if you do it deliberately, they can expand forever.”
The piece entitled Myriad Chroma—Bowers’ largest work, incorporating 10,000 individually-colored Penrose tiles—has a mesmerizing, undulating effect on the eye akin to watching curtains of linked confetti sway and fold in on themselves.
“This is a meditative piece,” says Bowers, “where I sit down at the computer and randomly pick colors so that I can then interact with this infinite thing. Because I want to find out what infinite colors look like.”
Myriad Chroma brings to mind the magic eye paintings so popular in the ’90s and available at every decent head shop. (Stare at it for five minutes, and the vortex of shapes and colors arranges itself neatly into a photograph or slogan). But unlike a magic eye painting, Myriad Chroma presents the viewer with an almost overwhelming repetition of geometry and color that never arrives at a tidy conclusion. The act of gazing on Myriad Chroma evokes Bowers’ meditation practice—patterns form and dissolve just as the mind acknowledges the coming and going of thoughts during meditation.
Bowers describes this meditative process by recalling the wisdom of Buddhist monks during guided meditations.
“I was once in conversation with a master Rinpoche monk, and the question was, ‘How do I meditate?’ He said, ‘Here’s what you do. Sit on your mat, and don’t meditate. Just notice what happens, and that’s your meditation. Just sit there and notice what happens. Because that’s what you’re doing anyway.’”
“It’s kind of mysterious even to talk about,” admits Bowers. “It’s got an edge to it—like, really? I’ve been meditating for decades and I don’t think I’ve ever gone 90 seconds without a thought. I was with Thích Nhất Hạnh [the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, poet, activist, and teacher] twice and the Dalai Lama twice, at his 80th birthday party. The Dalai Lama spoke for almost eight or nine hours with other monks. And at the end of it all, he said, ‘Therefore, emptiness has substance.’ He led up to that step by step. In essence, what you’re seeing as emptiness is full of stuff.”
By practicing a meditative openness of mind, Bowers frees up his own artistic process so that the act of creation is the driving force behind his artwork, not the artist’s illusion of control.
Organic Matter, Organic Patterns
In contrast to the mathematical precision of the Penrose tiles and the clean-cut lines of the aluminum pieces are the ceramic shields displayed in a room of their own. Here, Bowers works with organic material and eschews digital programming for his two hands and the ceramic artistry he originally learned from his grandmother when he was just a child. His lifelong love of ceramics led him to study and later teach ceramics at the San Francisco Art Institute and University of Berkeley, California.
Originally, Bowers intended his ceramic shields to serve as a symbolic protection for the earth from the many, endless, and ageless abuses humans have inflicted on her. But as the shields took shape, they emerged scuffed, raked, battered in places. Bowers realized he was manifesting a collection of protections that were already in use, already repelling the harms inflicted on nature by humankind. The shields became a way to document nature’s scars and astounding resilience.
“I love clay,” says Bowers. “My grandmother taught me to work with ceramics before I was in grade school. So, I decided I was going to make shields to protect the earth. I’ll put it out there and people will understand it’s for Mother Nature, because of everything we’ve done to her. But then I got a little ways along and said, ‘Wait a minute. What’s happening? Mother Nature is channeling through me and telling me what the shield’s already had done to it.’ Mother Nature has been out there all this time, and these shields bear the story.”
However different these pieces are from the more digital-based artwork, the shields offer their own kind of meditative experience as the viewer’s eye runs over the shapes. Each shield resembles an archeological shard, something dug up from an ancient civilization, marked by years of use, its importance clear but its purpose lost to the centuries. One notices the uniqueness of each shield just as their sameness creates a repeating pattern on the wall, creating mental space for a meditation on the ongoing interactions between humankind and nature, the ravages and the resuscitations.
Let A Thing Come
One emerges from Perspectivism quietly refreshed, as if a private conversation had been held between yourself and the artwork with secrets exchanged. One reenters the world outside looking for hidden shadows and alert to the natural patterns of the universe.
“Gerhard Richter is a big artistic influence of mine,” says Bowers. “I saw an interview with him and he said, ‘I just put it on there, and then I figure out what to do with it once it’s there. I don’t do it, it does it.’ So, I come along and put something up, and it’s a color, it’s a shape. You can paint it out. You can always reverse course. In 1976, Richter first gave the title Abstract Painting to one of his works. By presenting a painting without even a few words to name and explain it, he felt he was letting a thing come, rather than creating it.”
“I just try to stay out of the way,” continues Bowers, “and let the art sort of lead me. I feel like it’s a way to get to something that is maybe outside of me, outside of you. Maybe you’ll go away from the experience just slightly altered and have the understanding that you have had a separate, unique perception based on a question that you’ve conjured up. To me, in a way, it says, hey—you have an opportunity to change any time you like.”
Check out Art Center Waco’s wide range of upcoming art classes for adults and children.
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