Today we’d like to introduce you to George Bowes.
George, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was born in Toledo Ohio. My oldest brother was in classes at the Toledo Museum when I was too young to take classes so my mother and I would wander the galleries while he was in class. When I was old enough, I took weekend classes there and continued through junior high school. I was lucky to go to a public high school with a very rigorous visual arts program.
That lead me to apply to the Cleveland Institute of Art, and I graduated from there with my BFA. I thought I’d become a painter but the ceramics department was very exciting and that became my major. I have mostly been working with clay from that time. I did a year of graduate studies at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Craft but didn’t stay to finish my MFA returning to Cleveland to set up a group studio with friends I knew from undergraduate school. I stayed in that studio for thirteen years. It was a very productive period for my work.
When I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, I was awarded a scholarship that I could only use for travel. After returning from Nova Scotia, I used the money to go to Europe for three months. It was very important in my artistic development to have the time to physically study artworks, sketch them and let their influence soak into my practice when I returned to my studio.
For twelve more years, I lived in Cleveland being a studio artist and being an artist in residencies for the Ohio Arts Council. I did over 30 residencies working with a vast demographic of people from inner city to rural to suburban. Most of these projects were large installations made from cardboard and paint. Working on these large projects provided balance to me then going into my studio and making small highly detailed ceramic works.
I was also fortunate to receive grants from the Ohio Arts Council and Arts Midwest/ NEA Regional Visual Arts Fellowships. This financial support gave me long periods being in the studio full time with no interruptions. This was very important in the development and growth of my work.
After being invited to teach as a sabbatical replacement at the University of Florida, The University of Akron and the Cleveland Institute of Art, I decided to return to graduate school at the University of California Davis to earn my MFA so I would be eligible for full-time positions in higher education. After that, I taught at Georgia State University, The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and Southern Methodist University. In 2014 I got my current position at the College of the Mainland. I thought I would be in Texas for a year, but now it’s 15 years and counting!
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do? Why? And what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I mostly work with clay. Ceramics is a huge set of materials and processes. I feel I’m still digging my way through what I can do with what the field has to offer! I mostly focus on objects that have some type of function. I feel the addition of use to contemplation makes an object have more depth. I believe in these objects and see so much new discovery in contemporary functional objects. As an artist, you have to listen to what is being said, be open to new ideas, but stick to what you believe. If you don’t your work will smack of insincerity.
Along with function, color and surface are very important to my work. Ceramics is imaging with chemistry! It’s very exciting to make discoveries as to what will produce certain colors and textures. Having said that you have to have ideas to implement these discoveries or it will merely be technique. I feel my technical skills are always in a race with my ideas. Get an idea, then figure out what materials you need to present that concept. Discover an amazing surface then try to use that in a conceptual way.
I concentrate on ideas that engage me at the moment. These could be political, personal or just my ideas of beauty. At times my work has been very pointed in presenting my beliefs both socially and politically. Other times I rejuvenate by making beautiful objects. Having said that I always think there has to be something a bit creepy to make an object beautiful rather than incipit. Beauty can also be subversive by drawing the viewer in to contemplate difficult issues. I live with many objects. I like to say I want to be challenged by the objects that comfort me and be comforted by the objects that challenge me.
In recent works, I have sited ceramic works with other materials. These could be printed materials, industrial materials or a combination of works I have made in various mediums. In these pieces, I try to make connections between the materials and how their combination tells the story differently.
Have things improved for artists? What should cities do to empower artists?
I’m conflicted about opportunities for artists. The internet has opened up many venues for work to be viewed. In some ways that has leveled the playing field but it has also lead to very little vetting of work. Being someone who loves the physicality of objects seeing them in a digital space is not the same. Although Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, there is no commercial gallery dedicating to exhibiting works made in the “craft” mediums. Having more commercial galleries accept works made of craft materials and addressing function would be a start.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
My website is georgebowes.com.
I have worked at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge MA and the Consignment Gallery at the Galveston Arts Center.
I am in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, Washington DC, The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ, The Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, The Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art, New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York, Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, Racine WI, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, OH and the Richard L. Nelson Fine Arts Collection, University of California Davis, Davis, CA. Most times, the works will not be on view but can be found on some institution’s websites.
- Website: georgebowes.com
- Instagram: geobowtx
Kristy Peet, George Bowes