Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe

An art friend who shall go unnamed (Wendy Wolf) said I should be ashamed of myself for never having been to Gallery Joe. And that I should hurry over because the artist Astrid Bowlby was having a meet and greet in the gallery. Wendy was thrilled she got to share a cookie offered by the artist and chat with her about art for a while. It was a rainy First Friday in Old City, the streets were getting slick and my feet were tired from hanging out at 110 Church Gallery for the RiTUAL Reading Room. Not wanting to be art shamed, I hustled in the wet bluster to find Gallery Joe and Astrid Bowlby at the corner of 3rd and Arch Streets. Wendy had given me an over-view of Astrid Bowlby‘s art show based on pairs of drawings. Two artworks, nearly identical, are presented in pairs; art collectors can buy one, the artist keeps the other. An interesting art meme with a little art shame on the side.

I shook out my umbrella and upon entering immediately began eves-dropping on a conversation between Astrid and a young aspiring artist who had just moved to the Eraserhood. She wanted to know if Bowlby would review her Master’s thesis and the artist agreed that she might. Astrid Bowlby is a critic for Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, who better to give an opinion?

“Visiting Critic, Cert/BFA, Astrid Bowlby received an MFA from PAFA and a BFA from the University of Southern Maine. She has also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Art Students League. Bowlby has received Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships for both works on paper and sculpture/installation as well as a Leeway Award for Excellence and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.” – PAFA Faculty

Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe, 302 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

Gallery Joe specializes in contemporary drawing on paper by emerging and mid-career artists of note.’

Each artwork is about nine inches square and there are two of each of them, almost identical. But not quite. There are subtle differences between each drawing but each pair are basically the same thing. But different. The red panels in the back gallery have the words STILL HERE in alphabet soup pasta type, on one drawing the word ‘HERE’ is more readable than the other. Even though one piece will be released by the artist you really get the idea of both in each. A narrative about the blurring of the word develops that becomes embedded in the work and the viewers mind. Each of the pairs seem strange and unusual with alien metaphors and abstract mind tricks. Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r) establishes a visual dialog with primal forces using a language of color, surface texture and content linking with our mind’s pattern recognition acuity. And it’s fun. Even though there are strict adherence to the parameters of each piece from a nubby black surface to fuzzy light fur to distinctive intensive mark-making, creates a compulsion to compare/contrast and then unwittingly absorb additional information. Pretty cool.

Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe

Astrid Bowlby and DoN talked about the Sampled (d) (r) installation. I told her I had heard about the concept from her fan-girl and the artist generously filled me in on the concept.

“It’s an on-going project, I don’t know what will happen but I set the process in motion. I want to keep a set of them.”

DoN tried a telemarketing mind trick and asked her, “Tell me more.”

“I feel a little uncomfortable because they’re right here and you can look at them. Maybe you should tell me about them?”

Well played! I saw process, pattern, color, texture and surface…

“Maybe, what if asking what a drawing is? Pushing the boundaries a little bit on that idea. A kind of accumulation of marks, that might be it. I like to use a lot of different kinds of things. I’m trained as a sculptor and not as a draw-er. So I think both of those things come into play.”

Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe

The face recognition technology in my camera went crazy on this shot, the camera’s eye seeing shapes that looks like heads. The black drawings on the left are marks on marks on marks in shades of black, levels of darkness draw you into the void. The pair of drawings with the fleshy blobs are anthropomorphic in a non-human way, a primitive symbol that speaks deep to a cultural memory, seeing a mystical moment from a life form different than ourselves. Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe creates moments in time, using samples of ambient energy, filled with internal artistic conversations in a foreign language. In a world filled with instant imagery this makes you stop, look and listen to what you’re thinking.

Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe

The surface of the art is interesting, mesmerizing really. One visitor commented that the surface of one of the black squares reminded her of lava fields in Iceland. I asked if there are narratives in the artworks?

“I think there are a lot of stories that can be told in it, it depends on the viewer. I’m making a point of concentration and then a lot of things can happen. But, I don’t think there’s specific stories”

Tell me about the process, are you doing them at the same time?

“Yes. I make two pieces and one is not a copy of the other. A do a little bit on one then I do a little bit on the other. So they get built up and there is no hierarchy. I like them both. A person who buys one chooses the one they want. So, it’s like taking a cookie that you’re sharing with everyone and then you break it in half and you choose which half.

So that solved the problem of things leaving my studio. I wanted to keep them. So this way I get to keep a set. The other thing about the two, is I like working in a variety of ways and that can feel a little scattered, I think. But the minute you make more than one of something it has an inherent authority, having repeated it. That’s the reason for the show. I make lots of different kinds of things and if you spend some time looking at them you’ll see.”

Astrid Bowlby, Gallery Joe

Astrid BowlbySampled (d) (r), Gallery Joe

DoN introduced himself to Gallery Joe curator Becky Kerlin and admitting to being art shamed by she who will remain unnamed (Wendy) into not visiting Gallery Joe before. Lamely I compared going to First Friday with a plan to go to Home Depot for house paint and leaving with houseplants.

“We’ve been in business for twenty years and we focus on contemporary drawing by local, national and international artists.”

What are your thoughts on Astrid Bowlby‘s show?

“Oh! These are fabulous. This is her fifth show here with me, I’ve been working with Astrid practically from the beginning. We have a space in the back of this building when we first opened and that’s when I started working with Astrid, so, it’s been a steady development, steady career growth. It’s been wonderful. 1999 was her first show here but we started getting together and talking in 1997.”

What do you think of the idea of selling one and keeping one?

“Well, I think it’s an idea that resonates with many artists. I think often you do something, it’s very fresh, a new piece and collectors, of course, recognize that immediately and they buy it. And so you have to make another one, you know? So, it’s nice…I think she’s kind of touched a nerve for a lot of people. And it’s interesting because the collectors do actually understand what she’s saying. They respect it.”

Read Edith Newhall‘s review in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Read Maegan Arthur‘s review on theartblog

Read Daniel Gerwin‘s review on Title Magazine

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.

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