An Existential Bowdon at Ebony Curated


Richard Butler Bowdon, ‘Blue Paul, Black Paul’, circa 2018.  Courtesy of Ebony Curated.

Visual artist Richard Butler Bowdon had an exhibition at Ebony Curated Cape Town. The show featured the artist’s latest body of work. A series that is comprised of portraits of real life characters, characters that form part of the artist study or research. Bowdon’s style is inspired by a realism that espouses what is avant garde about modernism. The characters seem to be conscious, imbued with a vitality the use of colour can demonstrate the artist sought to discern what is beneath the surface.
Comprised of first generation African progeny born in the European diaspora, the exhibition is about the aspect of identity that can be shared or imbued with what is universal. This can be discerned by how the visages of the characters are transformed to not only articulate a sense of being, but also to express what is private about self expression.

This way they demonstrated that he did not impose his own narrative on them, rather he expressed a sense of transparency that is contingent on the characters themselves to articulate. The characters in this exhibition are conscious of the voyeuristic location they occupy.   In order to express the characters with a limited measure of choreography, the artist imbued them with fictitious narratives based on the stories each canvas and character tells.
The function of colour this way is more than symbolic or pragmatic, it also expresses the interaction the artist had with the particular character. This sense of inherent transparency is achieved in the piece titled ‘The Counter-Tenor Study A’, a character executed with a pale sepia colour, imbued the character with a dignity that is elusive. Instead of creating reproductions of the moments, Bowdon created the essence of the moment. Through colour he understands the limits of language and the limits of the language of colour. Rather he articulated the character without a measure of intimacy, in order to express what is symbolic about the context he articulated them in. This way the contexts that the characters emanate from can be discerned within the narrative of the canvas.
By not giving the characters names he articulates how anonymity can be organically imbue with narrative, this narrative has universal connotations. The piece ‘Blue Paul, Black Paul’ is another example of how the internal narratives of the exhibition are captured. Paul with a demure expression on his face, is captured in the brovado that Black males are characteristically captured in popular images. Rather emotion and colour express a measure of individuality that is conscious of a universal context the artist has placed them in.
The small collage pieces, with their silhouette characters also articulate this measure of anonymity that is barren of intimacy. The piece titled ‘The Joke Part 1(Emmi Nigeria) is another example of how intimacy and what is universal in this exhibition forms part of the bigger conversation. The character is sitting in the same portraiture position, collaged in the background are grey and pale pieces of paper. This not only creates a sense of depth in the piece, it also creates a sense of place for the silhouette that pronounces their individuality.


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