STEPHEN BOWERS 

CURRENT + RECENT EXHIBITIONS

New York Ceramics & Glass Fair 2017

NEW YORK CERAMICS & GLASS FAIR January 19–22, 2017 Bohemian National Hall, New York, NY Bringing together a carefully selected and distinguished international group of around 28 galleries offering...

Stephen Bowers brings together in his painted ceramic vessels many of the traditions from the history of ceramics. In any one piece, one might find traces of many familiar styles and decorations.

Staffy Dogs 2013 LW

Pair of Staffordshire Dogs 2014, each 45 cms tall, underglaze, onglaze gold lustre

Initially from Sydney, Stephen Bowers became involved in ceramics in the late 1970s when looking for a challenge while teaching in a country town in South Australia. He did a traineeship in the Jam Factory’s ceramic workshop in Adelaide in 1982, and spent the next five years as an art teacher during the day and a potter at night. There was a strong influence in the early years from the Adelaide version of ‘Funk’ ceramics. In 1990, Bowers himself became head of the ceramics workshop at the Jam Factory, responsible for both training of staff and the workshop’s production output. At the same time he maintained his own practice of painting on vessels and also contributed to some large public art projects including a commemorative birdbath in a park and fittings for the ceiling in an inner city arcade.

His work is almost always functional in its form, and ranges from mugs, jugs, teapots, plates and platters that are mainly domestic in their purpose, to monumental urns and jardinieres intended for large public places. For the large items he usually collaborates with colleague Mark Heidenreich who is an expert thrower of large pots. The forms themselves, large or small, are crucial in the meaning of each work, but at the same time they are the basis for ordering his interest in the decoration of their surfaces. His drawing skills, and the way these are carried out through ceramic materials, are considerable, but the drawings are more than decoration and illustration. They are witty collages that betray thoughtful research and intelligent observation.

INTRODUCTION

Born in Katoomba, NSW, Australia in 1952, Stephen Bowers grew up in Sydney and now lives and works in Norwood, South Australia. A self-taught artist, he became involved in ceramics in the mid 1970s when he began producing strikingly decorated work.

Reflecting the influence of textiles, wallpapers, comic strips, natural history illustration and childhood memories his work brims with ideas and imagery that trace their origin to both historical and contemporary sources. Knowledge of ceramic decorative technique allows him to use these sources in his on-going interpretations of motifs such as cockatoos, kangaroos and willow patterns. His work is a sustained investigation into hand painted imagery and how it might be applied to the ceramic surface. Appreciation of this approach is a key to understanding how he develops and composes his imagery and achieves the complexity of resolution in his work.

S Bowers process shots of rosella plate

William Morris Camouflage plate: preparatory sketch and initial under-glaze painting 2014. photos by Terry Golding

It is not only skill at illustration that Bowers acquired over time; close observation of his often seemingly innocent decorations reveals subtexts of irony, commentary and social observation, inviting viewers to look beyond the bravura of the surface to discover a complex and layered world.
In addition to his work as an artist, Bowers has also contributed considerably to the careers of many within the visual arts, craft and design sector in Australia; from 1990 – 1999 he was Creative Director of JamFactory’s ceramics studio; from 2004 – 2010, he was Managing Director of the organisation. He has presented numerous exhibitions and lectures both in Australia and overseas.

TECHNIQUES
Inspired by the vivid colour, imagery and detail found within the traditions of ceramics (particularly Staffordshire wares) Bowers prefers under-glaze decoration and on-glaze lustre and enamel in a type of pottery known as ‘earthenware’.

S Bowers William-Morris-(camouflage-plates)-dinner-set 978pxwhite

William Morris camouflage plates 2010, underglaze, clear glaze, enamels, gold lustre

Layers of decoration are built up in stages, across many firings (some pieces being fired six times). Backgrounds and detailed brush work decoration are applied first, with treatments of gold or enamel applied last.
Works are covered with a gloss coat of clear earthenware glaze. This, like the glaze often found on Staffordshire pieces and other earthenware, can be expected, across time, to develop a ‘crazed’ appearance, where the surface layer of glaze exhibits a series of fine cracks. Continuously developing across the years, this is a natural characteristic of earthenware and is often looked for in antique pieces as indicators of their age.

BOTANICAL & ZOOLOGICAL ILLUSTRATION
Bowers is interested in records and imagery of Australian flora and fauna especially from the time of first contact and colonial periods. He often uses these images to explore the idea of Australia as ‘The Antipodes’, a kind of conjectural land, both ancient and new, strange and different, an upside-down, topsy-turvy southern counterweight to the mass of UK/Europe and the north. His interest in the birds and animals of bushland Australia means that many of his works also reflect on the on-going effect settlement has on the environment.

KANGAROOS
The kangaroo that frequently appears in his work is a reference to the copper plate engraving published in Hawkesworth’s edition of Cook’s Voyages, An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, 1773. The first definite printed illustration of a kangaroo, it was engraved after a painting by pre eminent animal painter George Stubbs (1724 -1806) and is often referred to as Stubbs’s Kangaroo. Joseph Banks (1743- 1820), the naturalist on Captain Cook’s vessel the Endeavour, commissioned Stubbs to paint a portrait of the animal from a skin brought back to England. The finished work was exhibited with the title ‘The Kongouro [sic] from New Holland, 1770’ at the Society of Artists in London in 1773.

Stubbs meets Spode 2011, underglaze, clear glaze, 6 x 63 cm. Boldly crosshatched, the image of the copperplate kangaroo engraved from Stubb’s painting which appeared in Hawkesworth’s edition of Cook’s Voyages, An account of the voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty for making discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, 1773, asserts itself over a wash background depicting details of a numbered analytical chart of the engraved copper plate for Spode’s blue willow ‘Temple’ pattern.

PARROTS
Bowers’ parrots have various sources, including the Zoology of New Holland , 1794 by George Shaw (1751- 1815) with figures by James Sowerby (1757 -1822), the first book dedicated to Australian fauna (and the first to use the term ‘Australia’ to refer to this country), as well as more contemporary illustrators including Neville William Cayley (1886- 1952) author and illustrator of What bird is that ? 1950, and William T Cooper (1934- ) illustrator of many books including Australian Parrots, 3rd edition published in 2002 and Cockatoos: A Portfolio of All Species, 2001.

MOTIFS & PATTERNS
William Morris (1834 – 1896) one of Britain’s most influential designers, he is best known for his superb flat repeat patterns for fabrics, wallpaper and furnishings. Designing over 50 wallpapers for his company Morris & Co, he used plant forms in every one of his designs, finding inspiration from his gardens, country walks, and woodcuts prints from the 1500s. Bowers frequently employs patterns such as Compton (1896), Brer Rabbit (1882), Honey Suckle (1883) and Pink and Rose (1890) in his works.
Willow Pattern appearing in about 1780, attributed to Thomas Turner of Caughley, and engraved by Thomas Minton (1765- 1836), the standard Willow Pattern draws on imagery found on hand painted Chinese blue and white export ware which made their way to Britain and Europe during the 1500’s through to the 1700’s.

Early designs for the pattern show pagodas and gardens, often with pines and orange and willow trees, a bridge (frequently with figures crossing the bridge), a bay (or harbour) with a boat and remote temples and pagodas on distant islands and archipelagos.
From the 1780’s on, these ‘poetic’ elements were mixed and altered by the many potteries producing versions of the design, with later versions incorporating a pair of birds and becoming increasingly standardised. Suitably enough, the ‘willow legend’ of two star-crossed lovers is a further fictive evolution, retro-fitted to the design in the 1840s to broaden its appeal and boost sales.
At the height of Staffordshire wares in the 1830s, over 200 potteries produced Willow patterns. However with the introduction of the British Copyright Act in 1842, potters were discouraged from simply taking designs from each other. This led to the development of new designs ranging from lyrical floral patterns, to idyllic landscapes to sporting and industrial views.

S Bowers The-Complete-Angler-plate LW

The complete angler 2010, underglaze, clear glaze 65cms dia

ABOUT THE WORK: WALK THE PLANK

Walk The Plank 2013. Handmade wooden surfboard (paulownia timber), painted decoration, fiber-glass and resin. Board shaped by Peter Walker, painted by Stephen Bowers, Adelaide, South Australia. 7’7” high x 22″wide.

Inspired by classic blue willow pattern, Bowers creates a ‘dub’ (or pirate version) to decorate this handmade wooden surfboard created by master Australian wooden surfboard maker Peter Walker. In this work is the world of willow harbor, coastline, and floating islands re-imagined in another form to illustrate an unwritten folk-tale about pirates off the coast of Maine.

Looking within this (at first appearance) subtly changed landscape, layers strange alternative narrative unfold, reworking the cliché of willow pattern into a diverting and whimsical take, where the old blue willow morality tale is hijacked as a tableau theatre, a location for buccaneer daydreaming and imponderable fictions.

In this silhouetted and floating world, successive layers of images appear. Images from pirate lore and local North East USA vernacular culture replace the pagodas and temples of the oriental inspired classic. Storm tossed and beset by sea monsters, ghost images of strange treasure galleons and pirate ships drift in the shadow-filled background. Whether dancing a bizarre jig a-top a cannon or sporting a greasy pig-tail queue gazing out to sea, pirates abound.

Willow Pattern pagodas are replaced by Cape Cod real estate. Edward Hopper’s 1927 Lighthouse and buildings on Portland Head, Cape Elizabeth appear in the middle ground, while the Chinese bridge becomes the suspension bridge to Deer Island. Of the two iconic lovebirds, one mutates into a pirate’s mascot in the form of a bat. As well, a diminutive Statue of Liberty lighthouse beacon and classical facade (looking a bit like the MFA Boston) become a Museum of piratical Arrrt (admired by comic strip characters Krazy Kat and Ignatz).

In this surreal surf culture piece (even the title – Walk the Plank – plays at once on buccaneer executions and surfboard lore) the complex world of willow harbour is awash with new images and strange undercurrents. The classic cobalt dreamscape of archipelagos, islands and mainland become a map of poetic pirate fantasy. This work reconfigures blue willow pattern; allowing it to become something of a new folk tale, set within its borders, an illustration that draws audiences into the zone of action, into the world of pirate willow, inviting us to walk the plank, cross the bridge go out to the island and behind the scenes.

Sydney, NSW, Australia

Born: 1952, Katoomba, NSW, Australia

Education and Teaching Experience

1991–present
Master classes and symposia for summer schools, conferences, universities and colleges

1984–1989
Visual Arts Teacher, Ingle Farm High, South Australia, Australia

1984–1986
Bachelor of Education, Underdale College of Advanced Education, Adelaide, Australia

1978–1982
Visual Arts Teacher, Whyalla High, Australia

1974–1976
Diploma of Art (Stage 2), National Art School, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia

1974–1976
Specialist Arts Teacher Glenmore Road Primary, Paddington, Sydney, Australia

1971–1973
Diploma of Teaching, Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education, Sydney, Australia

Selected Group, Survey, & Solo Exhibitions

2016
RE — Reanimate, Repair, Mend and Meld, Ferrin Contemporary, 1315 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA

2014–2015
Beyond Bravura: JamFactory ICON exhibition: Visions of Australia touring program, Goolwa, Gelong, Watson, Brisbane, Caboolture, Cairns, Cowra, Wagga Wagga, Manly, Launceston, Seppeltsfield

2013
Ceramic Top 40, Red Star Studios at Belger Crane Studios, Kansas City, MO

New Blue and White, Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, MA

2012
COVET, Ferrin Gallery, Pittsfield, MA, SOFA NY

2011
Larks Tongues in Aspic – Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

The Elements within Sculpture – Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, Australia

2010
Larks Tongues in Aspic – Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, Australia

Illustrious Wonders – Kurt Weiser USA, Stephen Bowers AU, Paul Scott UK – Ann Linnemann Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark

Sculpture 22 – Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

New Works – JamFactory, Studio Works Gallery, Adelaide, Australia

2008
Ming goes Bling – White Cockatoos and Blue Willow Austral Pop, Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

COLLECT, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

2006
In Your Face: Contemporary Graphic Design, exhibition at Sydney Design 2006 Festival, Powerhouse Museum, Australia

2005
JamFactory Biennale 2005, JamFactory, Adelaide, Australia

Waterhouse Natural History Prize, South Australian Museum, Australia

2004
Drawing Today, Adelaide Central Gallery, Australia

2003
Decorative Arts Survey, Lauraine Diggins, Melbourne, Australia

The Vitrified Image, Hyde Gallery, El Cajon, San Diego, USA (NCECA)

Wild Nature, JamFactory, Adelaide, Australia (on tour through 2005)

2002
Det Dansende Vaerktoj, Museum of International Ceramic Art, Denmark

Ritual of Tea, JamFactoy, Adelaide, Australia

2001
Auriferous, Bathurst Regional Gallery, Bathurst, Australia

2000
Lauraine Diggins, Melbourne, Australia

Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

Modern Ceramics, Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles, USA

1999
Mostra Della Lustro, Gubbio, Italy

1998
Lauraine Diggins, SOFA, Chicago, USA

1996
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

1994
Lauraine Diggins, Melbourne, Australia

1989
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

1987
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, Australia

1986
Surface Paradise, Jam Factory, Adelaide, Australia

1983
Jam Factory, Adelaide, Australia

Professional Experience

2004–2010
Managing Director, JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design, Australia

1999–2004
Senior Development Officer, Arts, South Australia

1991–1999
Head of Ceramics Studio, JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design, Australia

Publications

2012
The Antipodean World of Stephen Bowers Ceramics, review by Kevin Murray, Ceramic: Art and Perception, No.88

Forums, Symposia, Lectures and Presentations

2015
Lecture, Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard, Alston, MA

2011
Guest speaker, Royal College of Art, Kensington, Gore, London, UK

Books in My Life, FSL Address, State Library of South Australia

Guest Speaker, Graduation Address, University of South Australia

2010
Lopdel House Gallery, Tritirangi, New Zealand

Suter Galley, Nelson, New Zealand

School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia

2008
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

2007
Museum of American Design NY, USA

The Pottery Workshop, Jingdezhen, China

Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, USA

2006
Royal College of Art London, UK

University of South Australia, School of Art, Adelaide South Australia

2005
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

University of South Australia, School of Art, Adelaide, South Australia

Royal College of Art, London, UK

2003
University of South Australia, School of Art, Adelaide, South Australia

2002
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA, USA

SALA, Artist’s Talk, Art Gallery of South Australia

Museum of International Ceramic Art, Denmark

University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

AIT Arts, Adelaide, Australia

2001
Workshop & Demonstration, North Qld Potters Group, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Ceramic Study Group, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

1999
Ceramics Festival, Forum, Artists Residency and Exhibition, Gubbio, Umbria, Italy

1998
SOFA (Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art) Exposition, Chicago, USA

1997
Escola Massana, Barcelona, Spain

1996
SOFA (Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art) Exposition, Chicago, USA

Design Institute of Australia, Adelaide

1995
Lill St Studios, Chicago, USA

SOFA (Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art) Exposition, Chicago, USA

International Ceramic Exhibition, Faenza, Italy

British Crafts Council, UK

Queensbury Hunt Design Group, London, UK

RE—Reanimate, Repair, Mend and Meld

RE—REANIMATE, REPAIR, MEND AND MELD co-curated by Paul Scott and Andrew Baseman a group show of work by contemporary ceramic artists explores the issues of conservation, restoration, over-consumption, reuse, and...

Ceramic Top 40 | 2013

Exhibition of artists under and over age 40 currently working in ceramics November 1 – January 25, 2014 presented by Ferrin Contemporary and Red Star Studios at Belger Crane Yard...

SCENE + SEEN: Summer 2013 | Project Art and Ferrin Gallery

Summer brings ART + ARTISTS from far away places around the world Adelaide, Australia, Jingdezhen, China, Seoul, Korea, to the small village in Cummington, MA, USA on the Eastern edge of the Berkshires, in the heart of the Hilltowns and just west of the Pioneer Valley.