Interview with Aesthetica Art Prize Longlisted Artist: Day Bowman

Aesthetica Art Prize longlisted artist, Day Bowman has been selected out of only five UK artists to exhibit her work at this year’s NordArt exhibition in June. Her work as a painter lies on the axis of figuration and abstraction, and combines collage, print and painting. Most recently Day has been collaborating with Ian Knox, award-winning filmmaker, and TransGlobal Underground on The Urban Wastelands Project that toured museum and gallery spaces in the UK throughout 2011 and 2012. Aesthetica found out more from Day on her work and what to look out for in the future.

A: Where do you draw your inspiration from in your artwork?

DB: In my current body of work I have set out to explore the landscapes of Britain that are passed through, ignored or deleted from the collective memory.

These are universal landscapes that can be found in any country, on the edges of any urban environment that put me in mind of fleeting glimpses from a car or train window or departing ferry. These are the landscapes of arrival and departure that question our perception of place, of memory and of transience.

In 2011 the poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts published a journal Edgelands that, for me, beautifully describes these wastelands arguing that the wilderness is much closer than we think: ‘the great wild places on our doorstep’.

A: You work with paint, how do you find this medium is suitable to express your artistic vision?

DB: Well, I am not sure I start out with an ‘artistic vision’ when working on any body of work. There are ideas, yes, but it is all about the working through and working out of these ideas: the process. And if I could not express these ideas in paint, and more particularly in oil paint, I am not sure that I would be so involved, so committed to the whole process. I was 15 years old when I first experienced using oil paints and the sensation was wonderful; the smell of the linseed oil and turpentine; the lusciousness of the materials; the colours and the ability to transform basic colours into something more nuanced, all quite magical.

Whilst working on The Urban Wastelands Project I found myself drawn to using collage which, I guess, has something to do with the journey taken by train and car: those captured moments, the quick snapshot. Working paint into the collage I eventually arrived at something that felt right, a feeling of passing through the landscape.

On receiving the commission from b-side Festival in 2012 for the Olympic town of Weymouth I found using collage a way to distil so many images from the Portland peninsula and seaside town. Seeing the giant digital posters surround Weymouth Station throughout the Olympic Sailing and Paralympic Events of last summer was revealing as I had not worked on ‘public art’ before. I gather it raised a lot of interest and is a medium I’d like to explore further.

A: Your work is centred around landscapes of desolate beauty – deserted industrial wastelands and bleak coastlines. What is it that attracts you to focus on these areas?

DB: Growing up in Minehead, a West Country seaside town, meant that I grew to know and love the town in all seasons but more particularly the out of season emptiness of the beach and small port, the windswept promenade, ripped hoardings, and closed up shops and stalls. Once summer had passed we found that we had the beach and the port, where pyramids of coal too high to scramble over, reels of barbed wire and hollow pipes large enough to walk through, all to ourselves. I guess health and safety would go mad with such a reckless playground nowadays!

Much of the imagery, abstracted as it is, in The Urban Wastelands Project grew out of early small collages works. It was here that I explored the shapes of gasometers, industrial chimneys, and containers along with the colours of rusting hulks and gun metal greys of marine detritus.

The writer John Banville describes these areas beautifully in his book Eclipse:

The jagged windows of the disused factories flashed with mysterious significance in the slanted autumn sunlight. And here too I saw all manner of ghosts, people who could no longer be alive, people who were already old when I was young, figures from the past, from myth and legend. In those vacant streets I could not tell whether I was moving among the living or the dead.

This, I think, is the stuff of the here and now and of that chimera: memory.

A: You were recently longlisted in the Aesthetica Art Prize and have been selected to exhibit for Nord Art – can you tell us your opinions on art prizes. Do you feel they are necessary for emerging artists to gain international exposure.

DB: Art Prizes and Open exhibitions are just two ways in which the emerging artist can gain valuable marketing exposure. Let’s be honest: it is tough out there, always has been, and any opportunity the practising artist has to exhibit work is a good thing. I suppose if I have any gripe it is with art schools that do little enough to help explain to their students how best to market their work.

A: How does it feel to be one of only five UK selected artists to exhibit at Nord Art?

DB: I was delighted to receive the news that two large works had been accepted but utterly mystified when I realised I was just one of five artists selected from the UK.

But referring back to your earlier question, I do think this exemplifies how important it is to just keep going at the marketing aspect. When I tell people that I spend 40% of my energies on marketing they look puzzled as there is still this perception that an artist should: (1) be starving in a garret and (2) live with a paint brush/chisel in their hand. Right now I am trying to get my head around social media as this is very much the thing of here and now.

A: What do you have planned for the future?

DB: Right now I am really enjoying being back in the studio as the last two years have been busy with The Urban Wastelands Project UK. tour and the Weymouth/Portland Olympic commission, so I see this as a time for new ideas to work through and explore.

Through my gallery, Jenny Blyth Fine Art, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Gerry Judah whose work I greatly admire. Gerry’s work, currently on exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North, is in direct response to global conflict, whether urban decimation in the Middle East or Afghanistan or natural disasters such as flood and earthquakes that leave fragile communities broken. The possibility of staging a series of loosely collaborative exhibitions that respond to each other’s work is one that we are currently pursuing.

Day Bowman at NordArt, 8 June until 6 October, Kunstwerk Carlshutte, Vorwerksallee 3 D – 24782 Budelsdorf.

Image: Edgelands 2, 2012. Courtesy Day Bowman