Interview with San Francisco Artist, Robert Bowen

22 Jul, 2012

To view more of Robert Bowen’s work visit his website at: www.RobertBowenArt.com

Robert Bowen Art: St. Elmo's Fire

I caught up with San Francisco-based artist, Robert Bowen, at the RAW Art Exhibit in Oakland, California in July of 2010. He was the featured artist whose work is inspired by the pop culture and television characters that he grew up watching. His collection of many things, such as Entomology (Bugs), Natural History (skulls, bones, anatomical charts, Audubon Society renderings), WWII era things, old toys, and art inspire his paintings. A self-described “T.V. baby,” Bowen, credits his art, which is infused with tv/film characters like Elmo, Pinnochio, The Pillsbury Doughboy and many others, to watching entrirely too much television as a child: “It is somewhat natural for SOME of those elements to naturally infiltrate my subconscious and as a result, my art.” He has been featured in publications such as Submerge Magazine, Refused Magazine, Juxtapoz.com, Hi-Fructose.com, Flavorpill, and numerous blogs.

Dig In Magazine: Where are you based out of and where is your studio?

Robert Bowen: I’m now based out of San Fransisco. That’s where I live and work. And occasionally play.

DIM: How would you describe your artistic style?

RB: I’m never quite sure how to answer that question, Surreal, New Contemporary, Contemporary, Lowbrow, fun, dark. Personally I just like to paint. Describing it is not my best suit.

DIM: I understand that you collect a lot of things. What do you like to collect and how does it inspire your art?

RB: My collection of stuff, well it’s just that. A collection of things that are inspiring to me. It is a collection of many things, Entomology (Bugs), Natural History (skulls, bones, anatomical charts, Audubon Society renderings), WWII era things, old toys,[and] art. When I look around my studio, there are many things that inspire me, some indirectly, and somethings will actually make an appearance in the work.

DIM: How has television and pop culture influenced your artwork?

RB: I am a self described T.V. baby. I watched entirely too much television as a child, and still do, so it is somewhat natural for SOME of those elements to naturally infiltrate my subconscious and as a result, my art.

Robert Bowen Art: Eastern and Western Oracles

DIM: Where do you get the ideas for your paintings?

RB: Most of them start with an idea, joke, or emotion I want to convey. Some are a story. A joke might be somewhat easier to execute, but for all [of my art] I’d like to think emotional content is always there.

DIM: What artists, dead or alive, inspire you?

RB: Dead: Dali, Francis Bacon, Yves Tanguy, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Marc Davis. Alive: Alex Pardee, Barry Mcgee, John Wayshak, Greg Simkins, Dave Correia, Skinner. Dead or alive: Bon Jovi.

DIM: What inspires and motivates you to paint?

RB: It is therapy, if I didn’t paint, I’m not sure where I’d be. It probably wouldn’t be a happy place.

Robert Bowen Art: Mario

DIM: How did you get into art?

RB: I have always been “into” art. I can remember my grandmother painting and trying to teach me to draw and paint. I used to draw snoopy and the Oakland A’s logo over and over when I was a kid. It was something that just felt natural.

DIM: Have you studied art and if so, in what capacity? Where did you study art?

RB: I did attend art school in San Francisco for a bit. I started off as a painting and drawing major, got really frustrated with the program and teachers, then changed my major to sculpture. I figured if I’m going to pay for school, I should learn something [that] I can’t teach my self. I figured I could study painting for myself and learn from artists [that] I like. Although I enjoyed sculpture and I feel it did help me in painting, it taught me to look at things in a three dimensional way. I would just rather paint. I changed schools, went back to being a painting major, got frustrated again, and realized school just wasn’t for me. All this while I was just getting seriously into graffiti and street art. I think graffiti taught me just as much as “classical” training did. I learned a lot about color theory from graffiti. I think a lot of what I liked about graffiti and its bright colors is evident in the work I do today.

Robert Bowen Art: April Fool's

DIM: How do you keep your artwork so fresh and original?

RB: I just keep evolving and trying different things, It’s not a conscious decision to keep it fresh or original, but thank you for saying so. I just paint what is on my mind.

DIM: What art medium do you like best (i.e. sketching, watercolor, oil on canvas, ink, pencil, digital, spray paint etc.)?

RB: Right now my main medium is acrylic, I do enjoy sketching, but most of the sketches are done directly on the canvas and get painted over.

Robert Bowen Art: Benny

DIM: What is your artistic process for a piece of artwork from start to finish?

RB: It usually starts with a vision of something I might think is interesting, or a joke, sometimes an inside joke. Or something I think is beautiful. All of that part of it is kind of varied. Sometimes I’ll go back and add other elements if I feel the composition calls for it. After an initial idea is there, I usually try to come up with a color palette. I usually loosely paint a background and then sketch directly onto that. After that is done, I just start to flesh it out with colors, and they pretty much paint themselves from there.

DIM: What are you trying to convey through your paintings?

RB: Usually an emotion, or idea. It varies, but I like it when the viewer can get their own ideas and feel emotions from them.

DIM: Are you making a statement by your use of such pop culture television images like your use of the Pillsbury Doughboy, Pinocchio, etc.? What statement are you making through your paintings?

RB: I’m not a very political person, so they definitely are not used in any political context. They are just images that are burned into my psyche, things I grew up with, and in certain instances and situations, they make an appearance. Sometimes they just need to be there.

DIM: What do your monsters, skulls and spiders symbolize?

RB: I’m not quite sure. I like dark and creepy things sometimes, and when thrown into a composition with a beautiful bird or woman, it makes a nice juxtaposition.

Robert Bowen Art: Painting displayed at RAW Art Gallery Exhibit on July 2, 2010

DIM: What exhibits have you been involved with? And what galleries have you shown your paintings in?

RB: Most recently, I was Involved in the RAW exhibit in Oakland this past July. That was a really positive experience, thanks to C.I.G. for that. Also I just had the privilege of Old Crow (362 grand ave, Oakland) letting me turn half of their gallery into a small look onto my head…that was really fun. Many, Many others.

DIM: What magazines have you been featured in?

RB: I Just recently had a cover story in Submerge Magazine, a magazine local to the Sacramento Area. Refused magazine, Juxtapoz.com and Hi-Fructose.com. Flavorpill, and a few other blogs. I really enjoy people being exposed to my work, I hope there will be more of that to come.

DIM: What do you like to do outside of art?

RB: I love watching movies, and hanging out with friends, playing with my dog/pets/animals. Just gathering life experiences that will eventually make it into paintings someday.

DIM: What is in the future for Robert Bowen?

RB: The only thing I can say for sure that is in the future is releasing more Limited Edition Prints, a line of T-shirts, and continuing to make more paintings that, I hope, excite people. Oh, and if any one knows where I can buy a live Octopus, in the future I will have the coolest salt water tank ever.

About the author

Cindy Maram

Cindy Maram is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dig In Magazine. She is an accredited film journalist for Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and CAAMFest, as well as writer, vlogger, designer, digital, online & social media marketer. She possesses a B.A from UC Davis and a M.A. in Mass Communications + Popular Culture Studies emphasis in Film/Marketing/Writing from Cal State Fullerton.

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