Dean Bowen - Interview
Published Tuesday, 14 June 2005
My name is Dean Bowen and this is an introduction to my exhibition at Australian Galleries.
The Big Little Man
This sculpture (“The Big Little Man”) was based on a small bronze maquette, which weighed about 7 kilos. This sculpture weighs approximately 400 kilograms. Originally made in clay and then cast in bronze using the lost wax method of casting.
I think of his face as a giant section of the earth and the planet, the undulations where it goes up and down like the earth; the holes in the sculpture are like caves or hills, mountains and valleys; the large hat is apart from being a hat is also like a landscape with two huge hills like Mt St.Victoire in France. Although the sculpture is shown here indoors, I hope eventually that it will be seen in public, hopefully people will see it.
This sculpture included originally making an armature of the piece – so with a large pole was put up through the center of the sculpture or where the sculpture would become, and other metal was welded around in an armature way, that was covered with chicken wire and inside the chicken wire was stuffed newspaper. Onto that armature clay was pushed into the chicken wire and gradually I made the sculpture by putting lots of clay onto the armature and gradually created the sculpture just with my hands.
When the sculpture was completed, a mould was taken and from the mould a wax was taken and using the lost wax method of casting liquid bronze was poured into the blank space. It was cast in two pieces, the head separately from the body and later on the two pieces welded together with rods that go through the head and the torso.
Then the sculpture was chased, where all the little rough bits of bronze were ground away, chiseled off, sanded, just generally cleaned-up which is a massive job. And finally the patina was put on to the sculpture where the sculpture is heated with a blow torch and with different chemical compounds painted directly onto the bronze. With the patina finished the sculpture is finally waxed, and the wax painted over the bronze protects the bronze so it can be outdoors for several years.
The Man with Small Ears
This sculpture is called “The Man with Small Ears” a bronze sculpture, that weighs approximately 55 kilograms. The piece was based on an etching I made last year also called “The Man with Small Ears”, which was a coloured etching of a giant face with massive texture which had been gouged with various tools; dry point and using aquatint technique and made this incredibly textured face.
From that print I wanted to make a bronze sculpture of the same idea and “The Man with Small Ears” began from the etching. The piece originally was made in clay created on an armature and coloured with patinas again with blow torches and sponges, putting chemical onto the face. Certain areas like the lips and the costume were painted with oil paint.
The back of the sculpture echoes the front with this incredible texture like volcanic rock that’s been spewed out of the volcano. Even though it was made in clay it has this incredible tactile element of volcanic rock, and the head was like cracks from Mars, the texture’s quite incredible.
When the patina was put on the liquid inside the head started to steam out like steam coming out of a coffee percolator which was completely unexpected at the time and was quite amazing, with steam even coming out of the ears.
Echidna on the Head
This small bronze sculpture is called “Echidna on the Head” and it’s a self-portrait joke about my hair, which all my life has grown straight out of my head defying gravity, which has been the butt of many jokes over many years. As a kind of counter-measure I began using the idea of my hair in images in paintings, prints and sculptures.
This small bronze was about that idea of being a porcupine, of having straight hair coming out of my head. So, I made the bronze, at first, originally it was just a little man who was holding a cat, and it wasn’t really working very successfully, then I straightened the figure out and got rid of the cat and then I thought “Oh, I’ll put the echidna on his head as a kind of joke about the hair”.
So I made a little echidna which was a bit difficult to stick on top and ended up with the piece. The piece was made using wax in the traditional method of sculpture all modeled in soft wax and getting cast in the lost wax method of casting.
Boy with Birds (catalogued as “Bird Boy”)
This small bronze sculpture is called “Boy with Birds”. Again it’s a self-portrait – I’ve been making many sculptures vertically and I wanted to make a horizontal sculpture, so I extended the arms quite long, totally out of proportion to his body and put a bird in one of his hands, as I’d been making many etchings at the time with people with birds both men and women.
After I added the bird, I thought the sculpture looked a little out of balance and added a second bird, on the other side. And now the piece reminds me of the scales of justice, weighing up right and wrong and good and bad, it’s like a moral dilemma. But, it’s also just a child with birds, and the bird is a great symbol of freedom and also travel, that is going places.
Harry and the Echidna
This exhibition of small bronze sculptures was made over the last five years and it represents all my activity in bronze sculpture. Fourteen pieces are in this show. Many are maquette size like this little fellow which is called “Harry and the Echidna” or “Man waving with the Echidna”. They’re all about little quirky stories or people I’ve met, things that have happened. This one’s based on a man in country Victoria who one day was lying on his banana lounge in his backyard, minding his own business and lo and behold an echidna came up and sat beside him and they made this little brief friendship for a while.
Again, it was kind of an accident when it was made, as the echidna was added right at the end and I just had the thought of adding the animal as well. The piece is a little unusual in that the patina is done on the base on the ground and the rest of the sculpture is painted with oil paint.
In his Studio
Hi, I’m Dean Bowen and this is the studio where I do a lot of my printing and painting. I have several studios and a lot of my time is spent in this studio where I edition my prints and do large paintings. The studio is setup to print etchings and also to work on paintings from time to time. All over the walls there are examples of my work, junk sculptures, oil paintings, different prints and some prints by other artists that I like a lot.
One idea transcending different media
A lot of people think of me as a print maker as someone who only makes prints, but one thing I’m very interested in is expanding ideas through different techniques and different mediums. I don’t like to be pigeon-holed too much into just one technique like my reputation is based on prints but I also do a lot of painting and sculpture.
Often one idea transcends through different techniques and this example here, is an idea I had of a lady holding a flower. It began as a small drawing, which evolved into a tiny coloured etching about 10cm x 8cm and although I was very happy with the etching and editioned the etching, as a small edition of 25 I wanted to expand on the idea and thought that the image could work quite well as a sculpture also, so I got some wax and started modeling some wax and ended up making a sculpture version of the same idea – Lady Holding a Flower.
This particular piece has been cast in bronze. The idea was also extended into painting – if we look back here on the wall, we see an oil painting, again of the Lady Holding a Flower – this painting is about 56cm x 76cm. So I very much like the idea of one idea transcending through different media.
Artist Book - Personnages et animaux
Sometimes I make artist books and this is one I made in 1996 – it’s a collection of etchings all printed by hand about an idea of characters and animals I knew from my childhood growing up in the country. This book is called “Personnages et animaux” – everything was made by hand from the drawings embossed on the front and the back. Inside the etchings are printed, the titles are printed also in letter press all by hand and I wrote a small story or poem about all the images in this book with just one line representing one etching. It’s all about childhood memories and thoughts of growing up in central Victoria in the sixties.
The first print in the book is called “Small Farmer”. I remember driving and walking in the bush and seeing farmers go about their properties, collecting cows, shooting rabbits, getting yabbies out of the dams, scaring away cockatoo’s and galahs.
This small etching is called “Bird Girl” and was translated into a lot of my bronze sculptures and paintings as well. I have strong childhood memories of children playing with birds.
This is “Girl with Yo-Yo”. One of the big crazes in the sixties was when the Yo-Yo man came from Coca Cola. Tthe whole school went bezerk when the Yo-Yo man arrived and although he was selling us Yo-Yo’s we went through the fantasy of becoming the world’s greatest Yo-Yo champion, and these crazes went on for maybe several months before everyone forgot about and went back to footy or swimming or whatever else they were doing before.
In my studio birds often land on the metal roof and they hop over roof with a tic-tac sound that drives me crazy and breaks my concentration. This happened for many years and then one day I thought “Well maybe I can make an idea out of this”. And the birds were bouncing off my head annoying me and I did a small drawing of a bird on my head that eventually evolved into this little etching of a character in the country looking across a type of Sydney Nolan landscape with this strange kind of crow on his head about to peck – very dangerous.
“Country Dog” was another etching from the “Personnages et animaux” series and during my childhood I had many dogs, many Labradors, often quite faithful dogs who’d would go with me on my paper round and wait for me in dead end streets. “Country Dog” is not really an illustration of those particular dogs – it was more a memory of being around dogs as a child and perhaps going fishing or hunting with the dog, the dog collecting the newspaper and balls, ripping up your towel when you went swimming - all those memories I think of and made this image of the country dog.
“Fat Bird” is like an overstuffed pigeon just resting on a little wire and has been feeding on chips and bread crusts or has had a very generous owner who has been feeding it heaps – just a very simple little etching that I quite like.
“Stray Cat” also is memories from my childhood seeing cats in the bush who weren’t looked after compared to say the town cats that were fed very well with Whiskas and scraps. The stray cat was starving and there wasn’t very much food for the stray cat except for the native birds it would kill.
“The Spotted One” was kind of a reflection of having freckles as a child and as summer came all the freckles would come out even stronger than normal. I just drew the picture from memory – I never draw from reality and I like this little print very much. It’s like a profile of a face on each side and it’s also a face from front on – so it has three meanings at least.
This little character I call “Starman” and often in the country at night looking up at the stars you’d be hoping to see a UFO or maybe you’d see a satellite or a streak of a shooting star across the sky and “Starman” again is another childhood memory of those nights in the bush.
“Redface” reminds me of sunburn and all those hot summers in the sixties when no one ever mentioned skin cancer though we all should have been very aware of it. And of course we all got burnt while we were swimming at the local pool.
The book is quite small – it’s made up of 24 etchings that were printed from 50 copper plates. The book took six months to make working nearly every day on the one project. So, you’ve either got to be very dedicated or a little bit crazy to do something like this. And these are some of the plates here – one of the peculiarities of colour etchings is that the colours have to be separated, so different colours are on different plates. This particular plate is one from the “Country Dog” etching and this was the plate that contained the brown ink – it was like the key plate that all the colour plates were matched or registered against.
The print comes out in the reverse of the etching as the printing process prints directly from the plate – so as the paper peels off the plate you have a reverse image of the drawing. This is something that Rembrandt did in the Seventeenth century and etching today is still very similar to how it was four hundred years ago.
As I said before I like to work with different techniques and a lot of my bronze sculpture is very expensive to make, so to relieve that side of my work I often make sculptures out of junk, found objects, bits of tin, bits of wood, anything I can scrounge up and put together like a kind of 3D jigsaw.
I never know exactly what I’m going to make ‘cause I don’t know ‘till all the pieces knit together and make whatever they make.
This particular junk sculpture is of a girl diving off a diving board and it was a complete accident – it just kind of evolved into what it was and what it became. Her little bikini is made out of some roofing metal I picked up one day, it was all rusty and worn out, painted oil paint on it. Her body is made up out of chipboard that I just scounged from dumps and discarded things that people threw out. Her legs with a hint of red, are made up from the handles of an old wheel barrow that I found.
This particular junk sculpture I made about five or six years ago – made from a Palm frond and this is called “The Bearded Lady”. I just found it one day on the footpath and I thought “gee that looks a bit like a beard”. Then some electrical flex, and some screw I made her mouth and nose and teeth and old rusty nails make up her eye lashes. And with another Palm frond I made her hair all frizzy.
This character over here I call “Mr. Embracable” and this little character hangs on the wall and has his arms out in a gesture of give me a big hug and he’s a very friendly character. His little buttons are made out of the lids from honey jars and crushed with pliers and ontop of them was nailed lids from soft drink and beer stubbies and the ground was an old tomato stake that I’d had in the back yard for several years and I never threw out because the wood had weathered so nicely.
His eyes are made of sea weed kelp that I found on the beach and his head’s just a piece of old masonite that was just lying around the back of the yard and painted.
Interviewed by Martin Shub (in 2000).
© Discovery Media, 2000.
This interview is one of 28 taken from the ARN2 CD-ROM published by Discovery Media.