Anthony Bowers is an artist and educator working across media in painting, sculpture, and installation. His work, The Water is Warm, is currently displayed in the SPACE window. I was lucky enough to sit down and speak with him about the depth of his art from everything to his teaching career to the meaning and purpose of his own work.
I always wonder about people’s own, individual history with art. Have you always wanted to be an artist or was there a particular moment or idol that inspired you to do so?
I think everybody has an art teacher that really inspired them, usually in high school and I definitely had one of those. She was just the most positive, inspirational and enthusiastic person you could imagine, and she made me promise to get a fine arts minor, because that was not my intention at all to go into the arts, but once I got there, I realized that’s not just what I love to do but also, I would be really depressed without doing it. It was kind of like, I’d wrote these waves of emotional despair my whole life, but art solved that.
I know that you teach and have taught at several schools in Pennsylvania. Do you feel that teaching has helped you extend your artistic capabilities and mindset? How so?
You don’t really know anything, until you teach it. I definitely understand all the elements of how to build a drawing and break it down in a formalistic way because of my experience teaching it. If you know something intuitively, that can be great but until you can really communicate that in a clear concise way, it’s tough to say that you really understand it. In terms of growth and confidence, being able to understand through teaching is the biggest lesson. And then, once you do that, you no longer have to feel like you’re practicing, you know? For the longest time when I was drawing I felt like I was trying to prove that I was good, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I just…I feel like I can own it in a way, which is great.
Your work is carried out through several mediums, such as painting, sculpture and printmaking. Before you begin a project, is there something that triggers what medium you want to pursue? It there an idea that leads to the production process, or is your process more innate in quality?
I think material exploration through the lense of painting is really at the root of all those different mediums tying together. The beautiful thing about painting – well one of the beautiful things, there are so many things – but the brushstroke is simultaneously a mark and an image, and taking that mentality and applying it to a broader range of materials is how I think about all those different processes. And also, there’s something about the thing being either an image of itself, like the cyanotype revealing its own process. Like it’s clearly rope but the print stands as something else. The security glass is clearly a recognizable thing but it is also transformed. And that relates to my process of painting. I’ve kind of drawn upon that in all of my interdisciplinary work.
How do you think the titles of your pieces contribute to the pieces themselves? Do you think your art would mean the same thing without the titles?
I think as an artist you’re really limited in how much information you can portray to the casual observer and if it’s just untitled you’re really missing opportunities to give some kind of contextual clue. The best advice I got on titles was from an artist who said “really boring work should have convoluted titles, and really overproduced work should have really straight forward titles. But I like titles that are concise but also point to larger social cues. So like with the title The Water is Warm, the unsaid part is “come on in,” or there’s an element of “it’s too hot.” It has conflicting invitational or warning significations, and I like that. I try to think of something that will give a mood and tie in a social context.
I’ve noticed a recurring theme within your work, that being reflections. What makes you so drawn to them?
I’ve thought a lot about that. There is Lacan, the mirror stage, the activation of the viewer, the positioning of the viewer in relationship to the piece by giving them agency through the reflection of their body, Pistoletto, and all these antecedents. But then I just started reading this book on store display, like how to set up a storefront, and the number one thing was to use shiny things. So maybe it’s just a desperate plea for attention. There’s also nothing people like to see more than themselves and by allowing that to happen, it’s both a generous act but also a manipulative one, because then they are part of the artwork, so they have to insert themselves in a different way then they would if they were passively interacting.
Looking at your work, despite what kind of medium, I notice a similar style and feeling. I mean that, when you look at all of the pieces together, you can gauge that they were all done by one artist. Do you feel like you have found your own signature aesthetic? If so, how long has it taken you to reach that point of comfort within your work? Do you believe that an artist is meant to reach that comfortability within their work?
I’m so happy to hear you say that because what I often hear is “Oh! It’s a group show done by you,” or something. It’s meant well, but you receive it and think “Oh. I have not coalesced as a person or an artist.” So it’s taken me like 15 years. I feel like I’ve just started to be able to tie in all of the different threads in a way that feels comfortable. But at a certain point, you draw down your influences and pair away the things you don’t need, so I think it’s totally normal to have that comfortability, it just took me a really long time to get there. It’s such a personal thing to do, and understanding yourself, that’s a prerequisite to understanding your work. I don’t know if it’s having a kid, but I feel like I’ve reached a certain level of confidence that’s new.
People obviously make art for many different reasons. Do you feel that your art is meant to be interpreted? What gives you the motivation to make it in the first place?
I don’t think anybody makes art long term, unless they have to. There’s just got to be some sort of innate drive and that’s certainly just a part of my make up and who I am. If you’re going to spend this time making and you have to do it, you want to be as generous as possible, or at least I do. I want it to be communicative, and if not a statement, then at least something worth thinking about or sparking a kind of thought process. Whether is perceivable or not, I think deeply, or I try to, about how things fit together and what they might say.