Natasha Bowdoin - Spelboken
Natasha Bowdoin: Spelboken
April 1 – May 14, 2016
Spelboken’s centerpiece is Garden Plot, a monumental installation of cut paper and painted board that sprawls across the gallery’s primary wall. Spanning more than thirty feet in length and ten feet high, Garden Plot is Bowdoin’s largest work to date, an ever-evolving installation that incorporates outsized flowers and looping tendrils of text. Transcribed largely from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature, Bowdoin’s handwriting twines through the foliage, running over petals and leaves before diving back into the undergrowth. Tangled and only partially legible, the transfigured text – and the installation as a whole – embodies the changeable role the natural world plays in our imagination. Nature can be, by turns, enchanting, overwhelming, innocent, savage, a proving ground for science and an oasis for introspection. Garden Plot likewise speaks in many registers. Its graphic blooms evoke lavish old textiles and the wide-eyed animism of a child’s wonderland. Its cut paper designs take their cues from a rich history of scientific illustration. And Bowdoin’s lettering varies in style and scale from a cursive whisper to a carnival bark. Any single account of the natural world will inevitably fall short, but layered together, all those murmurs, chants and roars start to generate a deeper pattern, a heavier thrum.
That play of pattern and disorder is in evidence throughout Spelboken. Heaped designs and images collapse into chaos and then gather themselves into new harmonies. Bowdoin’s towering moth drawings, lighter-than-air monoliths, pair loose, gestural brushwork with delicately filigreed lines. Her smaller cut paper works assemble the textures of bark, roots, flowers and leaves into overgrown icons, thickly camouflaged faces peering out from the greenery. The final images only emerge after several cycles of accretion and revision, growth and decay. Form arises not despite the surrounding tumult, but because of it.
Bowdoin’s cut paper works are only the most conspicuous examples of a recurring mask-like motif; once you start to notice them, faces blink out from all corners of the exhibition. Depending on how you arrange her moths’ wing-spots, they might be any combination of eyes, nostrils and mouths, and many of Garden Plot’s flowers have a certain watchful aspect. None of the faces are exactly human – they’re all a little too abstract, too close to an emblem – but they do indicate some presence, some unifying intelligence, amidst the buzz. However we approach the natural world – as scientists, adventurers, or pilgrims – there’s always the suspicion, be it a fear or a hope, of an underlying order. Whether we’re simply discovering ourselves in the landscape or whether there are larger forces at play will probably never be a settled question. But the feeling of recognition, that we both see and are seen, is always a sort of homecoming.
Natasha Bowdoin received her MFA from Tyler School of Art, PA, and a BA from Brandeis University, MA, in classics and studio art. She also completed studies at Slade School of Art, London. She was an artist-in-residence at The Core Program, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX from 2008-2010 and has completed additional residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, NE and the Roswell AIR Program, NM. Bowdoin is a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2007). Her work has recently been exhibited in solo museum and gallery exhibitions at the SCAD Museum, Savannah, GA and The Old Jail Art Center, Albany, TX. Select group exhibitions include shows at the Hardesty Arts Center, Tulsa, OK; the CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands; the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC; the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; and the Cue Art Foundation, New York, NY. Bowdoin lives and works in Houston, TX.
Image caption: Natasha Bowdoin, Garden Plot (detail), 2013, site-specific installation with gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper with latex acrylic on wall, 10 x 28 x 1 feet. Photo by Marc Newton.