Dean Bowen Essay

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Dean Bowen embellishes the human figure with lyricism and wit. Quirky figures relate to either a personal account or a peculiar narrative. His playful treatment of the figure disguises the technical difficulties of his printmaking techniques and casting process. The simple yet effective imagery alludes to the historical art movement known as l? art brut (Brut Art) especially the work of Jean Dubuffet.

Image: The Little Man, 31 x 27 x 8cm, Bronze, 1997.

Bowen's work is deceptively simple, emphasising the expressive potential of rendering the figure in 'primitive' and nave style. It is the raw quality of the treatment of the human figure and the illustrative accounts of human experiences that make his work so enduring to the audience. A literal representation of events are not of interest to Bowen, rather it is the summation of the event or story through his own personality that is important. Within his stylistic treatment of the subject matter he captures the essence of the event, often being autobiographical.

Technical skills involved in constructing Bowen's imagery demand a sophisticated knowledge of printmaking. He produces multi colour work on soft and hard ground plates each colour coming from a separate plate. However it should be noted that the size and number of coloured plates printed in his work requires a great deal of skill and expertise. The artist explores what is the best material to be employed in his body of work, often opting to develop a subject into a number of media such as drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Throughout the exploration and experimentation of his style and subject matter Bowen's constantly addresses the conceptual concern of his art in terms of the autobiographical and experiential.

In Bowen's work the figure establishes an intrinsic symbols of self-identity and experience, the figure fulfils a visual exploration of self and explanation of experiences. Characterisation of the form to the story, that is the character's form reveals it's psychological state graphically, is the primary convention employed by Bowen; his playful and nave figures surpass any need to depict reality. Fantasy and idiosyncratic accounts of life are the integral components of his work demonstrating the sophisticated form of pictorial representation, which negates a visual reality in favour of a 'presence' of the subject. His figures become symbols for the 'essence of life'; often depicting a uniquely Australian experience Bowen allows the audience into his own world of encounters. His expressive treatment of the figure lyrically materialises experiences past and present. He successfully constructs visual accounts of his personal life that tells far more than a domestic photograph or oral story could ever offer.

By Craig Malyon

Questions on the Artist

  • Dean Bowen's work is recognised as being uniquely Australian - examine his images and sculptures in term of a cultural identity.
  • Bowen's art has been identified as being nave or primitive. Explain what these terms mean as a visual convention in painting.
  • His work is clearly autobiographical. Select one print or sculpture that relates to a specific narrative and give account of the story in your own words.
  • Bowen explores the use of a number of expressive forms (media) to create a body of work. Discuss this approach to his artmaking making specific reference to artworks.
  • Bowen's work has been described as developing a larrikin aesthetic. What is meant by this use examples to support your response?

Artists Connections

Historical Contemporary
Hieronymous Bosch Jean Debuffet
Max Ernst Cy Twombly
Joan Miro David Larwill
Paul Klee Jean Michel Basquiat

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