Ronald Bowen - American Embassy Art Show (Guest of Honor), Paris - May 1996
"If I were to define my style of painting, I would call it 'Transcendental Realism.' It is my intention to present to the viewer an image that is on the one hand concrete and close to life, yet so filtered, strange and bordering on the abstract that he may be led into a state of contemplation and meditation. There is a minimum of anecdote in my painting in order to allow the viewer space to create his own story, to discover his own mystery."
Artist's Philosophy & Technique
Ronald Bowen - Summer 1997
"I work a lot with photography (mostly my own photographs) which allows me to deal with ephemeral and unusual subject matter and dramatic plays of light and shadow. I tend to go for fragments of my everyday world rendered life-size so that the viewer feels he's there.
The subject is relatively unimportant to me. What counts is the mood created by a certain play of light and shadow, the colors, the shapes, the surfaces. (I was once an abstract painter.) Nor do I seek to merely copy the photograph. There are a lot of changes that take place as well as a certain purification of form in order to get at my inner vision.
I love the contrast of organic shapes with architectural lines. Some of my paintings are purely organic and others purely architectural, but most are combinations of both elements. For me these elements symbolize, respectively, irrationality and rationality.
I don't hesitate to project a photograph if this will allow me to place the image on the canvas faster, but this isn't always necessary. Then I proceed to make changes and corrections in the drawing. After this stage I will usually lay out the image in thin layers of black and white acrylic to get the values. (This always makes me feel like a sculptor 'carving' the image out of the flat white surface.) Then I lay in the colors with acrylic washes.
In the next stage I work with oil paint to enrich, refine and blend. This can necessitate several more layers. Then in the final stage I'll work with transparent oil glazes, super thin, rubbing them in to bring out the depth and luminosity of color. This underpainting and overpainting technique is something I first discovered as an art history student in Florence in the mid 1960's and have since perfected from observing art in museums, reading about technique and just working at it. I've also adapted the technique for use with colored pencils.
Since I associate color with music I want my paintings to have the same impact on the eyes that good music has on the ears."
Galerie Toft - Paris
Chris Boïcos, Art Director, Galerie Toft - Autumn 1996
Introduction to the Artist
Ronald Bowen was born in 1944. In August 1966, he came to Europe for the first time and in 1970 settled down in Paris.
His long residence abroad has not diminished the American character of his painting: clear, sharp architecture, meticulous craft, ambitious formats, his style stems from the American Photo-Realist tradition established in the 1960's by Richard Estes and Ralph Goings. Its roots, however, go even further back in American history to the luminous landscapes of the Hudson River School, the dogged realism of Thomas Eakins and the strong architecture and careful craft of 20th century American realists like Charles Sheeler and Edward Hopper.
His experience in France, however, has made a difference. Unlike Estes and Goings whose paintings are littered with the fascinating but often sterile debris of American streets and diner counters, Bowen's works have a more intimate feel and introspective quality. His subjects (windows, plants, shadows, fragments of interiors, and reflections on glass) give his canvases an elusive dimension akin to poetry.
Bowen's associations of colour with music (expressed in his 1971 short film "Peinture et fugue en sol Majeur" and his search for a meaning lying beyond ordinary appearances, hint at another less obvious source for his art: fin-de-siècle French Symbolism. The evocative fragmentation of space and the dreamy quality of his painting are reminiscent of the poetry of Stephané Mallarmé and even of the art of Nabi painters like Denis and Vuillard.
The unlikely marriage of a no-nonsense American tradition of craft with a French poetic sensibility give his art a depth and richness which is very rare in current American or French Realist painting.
Photography and Ron's Painting
Though based on photographs, Ronald Bowen's paintings go beyond mere imitation of photo. Ron simplifies image, eliminates superfluous detail, and concentrates on linear framework and light. Also, most of his imagery is life-size which makes it very different from the small scale of most photographs.
As in all good painting, Ron's structure is dependent on the relationships between strong verticals and horizontals, with some strong diagonals; stability is achieved by the use of right angles. Ron enjoys breaking a fundamental art school rule by placing the center of composition at the exact center of the canvas rather than slightly off to the side. An absolute and austere symmetry is hence achieved.
Light and Color
Though dependent on observed or photographically recorded light, Ron's handling is purer and more intense, using the full strength of oil paint to achieve a luminosity which is pictorial, not photographic.
Shadows provide the fugitive or delicate element in most paintings contradicting the strong architectural frameworks. The presence of shadows implies the passage of time and introduces a time element in the paintings which makes them less rigid or fixed. This is where the poetry in the work lies.
Composition and initial layers are laid down in acrylic. The top layers are worked out fastidiously in translucent oil paint, which gives the works their richness and luminosity.
Ron chooses fragments of banal reality (architectural interiors, exteriors, windows, plants) but by concentrating on them, purifying them, and intensifying the light he brings out a sense of mystery and poetry lurking behind ordinary appearance.
In his insistence on the "frozen moment," shadows, and intense light, Ron is closest to the work of the great 20th century American realist, Edward Hopper.
Zenith Gallery - Washington, DC
Margery Goldberg, Owner/Director, Zenith Gallery - Summer 1997
Ron Bowen is an American residing in Paris. His impressive realist oil paintings of contemporary interiors and exteriors reflect his mastery of a linear painting style. Basing his technique on the Renaissance method of underpainting and overpainting, he creates luminous color and bold shadows. The dialogue between color and light accentuates the simple subject matter, creating calm, intriguing, and thoroughly modern art.