By Evan Senn
Painter Justin Bower has been making waves in the contemporary painting market for going on almost three years. This philosopher-turned-painter is steeped in art history and larger than life influences, but it’s his paintings that will floor you with evocative and powerful personal and societal reflection.
Bowers work has been all over the country lately. He has experienced a great streak of success since graduating with an MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2010. This IE-trained artist has received major art world notice and immediate gallery representation after graduating, with Ace Gallery and the infamous Doug Christmas. Working with such prestigious galleries and being shown in art fairs around the world with Ace, Bower’s large-scale disruptive faces have been affecting people the world over, and raising the bar for contemporary painters. Though the power of his paintings lies in the discomforting, anxiety-inducing, human portrait, buyers and collectors have been buying up his work wherever they can, cleaning out his inventory of work after every major exhibition or project.
As he is basking in his glowing success from some major national exhibitions and the recent L.A. Art Show in January, he hopes to expand into the European and Asian art markets. Over a cup of hot cider, he sits down with me and reflects on his intentions and purpose in creating these stark and haunting portrayals of humanity.
“My work has a lot to do with the subject, and the autonomy of the subject, in a way,” Bower tells me. “So when I speak of ‘the subject,’ what we’re talking about is humanity . . . it’s through the senses that we see and discover that we are human, our humanity; and the understanding of others is through the face and the eyes . . . even just a micron of a twitch has tremendous meaning behind it [in the face] . . . The eyes are the sea to the soul, so they say. That’s where I started.”
Many people often think Bower’s paintings are digital manipulations or playful reproductions of messed photos of people. Pieces of the portraits seem photo-realistic while others are meticulously converted into painted digitizations. “A distorted face disturbs people more, or affects them stronger,” he says.
Bower’s obsession with the portrait is merely a vessel for his larger intention, to thoroughly examine what it means to be human. He aims at neutralizing the viewer and jarring them out of their ego-driven coma, and awakening them into seeing humanity as a whole. Like a surgeon, Bower dissects these beautiful and sleek faces, morphing them into terrorizing and haunting images of a glitch—but perhaps there is a larger glitch that is underlying in these images, in these faces. Perhaps the glitch is in our own reflection.
When I look at a Bower face, I see an insightful glance at creation and destruction at the same time—life and death. I see our whole history through art, and our contemporary placement in it, with digital culture and the inherent search for meaning in our human existence—just in one painting. It’s amazing what an image can do—that power is a keen tool Bower, and many other talented artists, have a firm but tenuous grip on; it is a power I respect and am in awe of.
Bower admits that he doesn’t want to remain stagnant, that he has future hopes of expansion in his art. He hopes to investigate a way to place these figures into an environment. He says he wants to “really work with the whole ontology of what it means to be human, the beingness, which would mean the environment will [also] be fractured. I really want it to be revolutionary, in terms of my work. It’s moving the subject into environments that are unknown. Because that’s how I really feel; we’re moving so quickly, and also from there I can really critique the society’s control, the code that is moving in and out, the disfigurement, the whole gambit of science, technology meeting philosophy, art, and yeah—just creating a whole state of ‘a theatre of becoming.’”