An Artist’s Journey
Painter David Bowerman’s biography is an archetype of the subtle inner drama that takes place in the creative process. At least that is
the way he sees it, and it is the way it appeared to Connecticut Review interviewers John Briggs and Genette Nowak.
Bowerman’s studio is in the small town of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, on the ground ﬂoor of an old red-brick factory building that
was once part of the 19th-century industrial vitality of the region, long since fallen away. Bowerman’s studio rooms front a fast-ﬂowing
canal, reached by a short walk behind a wrought iron fence and old rhododendrons. The 60-year-old Bowerman once worked for a
company that manufactured industrial furniture, metal stampings, and Christmas tree stands. But for the past 26 years he has ventured
upon the treacherous waters of his elusive inner vision and the artistic neurosis of imagination, colors, and shapes.
At first glimpse, the studio looks dingy and tired in this old industrial place. The main room contains a tattered oriental carpet. The
walls are adorned with dark oils on canvas and shelves of sculpted heads. There’s a sketching desk with chewed pencils. Before the
interview begins, Bowerman leads a quick walk around the rooms that can only attempt to contain all the paintings he has there. Offset
from the main area is a large space filled with the energy of artistic detritus. Boxes of broken frames sit next to the remains of couches,
stuffing and springs exposed. Dead and dried black-eyed Susans collect dust by netted windows reflecting broken sunlight. He enters
the “painting room.” Easels display the backsides of canvases, works in progress, and a skeleton that hangs next to shelves jam-packed with
books on anatomy and the tales of great Renaissance painters. As soon as he turns on the MR16 lighting (a special type of gallery light
that Bowerman seems genuinely grateful to have found) the entire studio comes brightly into focus and fruition. The art comes to life.
Bowerman comes to life.
His appearance is modest and rugged, but his paintings are reflections of a wonderfully eccentric world. The people he paints appear
in his head and feed out through his paintbrush. They are full-bodied, complacent, and would have many stories to tell if they could
speak. Bowerman’s palette of purples, oranges, reds, and browns, represent a dark and bright harlequin part of the soul. His still-lifes of
flowers are backgrounded the same as his portraits with textured concentric shapes, fractals, perhaps representing the cycles of life. The
intricate details imply both the tedious hours spent painting such details and the excited intensity of those hours.
What Bowerman offers in this interview is a breathless narrative of his decades-long “journey” as an artist. As he recounts it, the journey
is clearly Bowerman’s own personal myth, a tale of his lifelong descent into a netherworld to find his “vision.” What marks him out is the
passionate singlemindedness of his quest. As he tells it, the journey begins when he is four or five years old. He remembers experiencing
an indescribable sense of presence he calls a “voice.” He has no idea what the voice is telling him or what it means. He will later connect
the voice to his art. Early on he is attracted to drawing but lacks a talent for it. He does poorly at school. Attracted to woodworking in
shop class at Pierce Jr. High in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, he takes a path that leads him to training as an engineer, receiving a BS and a MS in
Industrial Engineering. This, in turn, leads him to a career as a successful business executive at Standex International Corporation.
At age 34, Bowerman gives all of this up to study art. He allows himself two years to become an artist. It stretches into 26. During this
time he struggles to ﬁnd his vision, not quite realizing that it lay enfolded in the voice he heard as a child. Along the way, the classical
preoccupations of painters— color, luminosity, the drawing of the human face—become, in his telling, likespiritual problems, as if he was
engaged on a quest for enlightenment by the inscrutable deity of color and form. By his own admission he has been completely obsessed
with his journey, though until recently he had no clear idea about the vision he sought. He only knew that he sought it. When the vision
finally came in its pure form, it surprised him, seemed something alien to his own expectations. He is only now becoming comfortable
with the images that have worked themselves into being in his studio.
Bowerman tells his story in a hurly burly as if he still can’t get over his amazement at the internal twists and turns he has taken and is in a
rush toconvey how incredibly exciting it has all been. He speaks metaphorically of moving “out of the dark and into the light” and of
certain key paintings as his “teachers.” For him these are moments of high intrapsychic drama. Looking in from the outside, his six-day,
15-hour-a-day toil in his studio might seem anything but exciting. The excitement was internal, hidden, though it radiates through the
work. Each time he felt he was “close,” he would realize the next day that more work needed to be done, and that he was still on his
Over the last 26 years since he quit his career as a business executive, he has largely refrained from the world of galleries that look for
work that will “sell.” The work they liked of his was, for him, only work in transition.
Much of the two-hour interview (heavily edited here) took place as a high-energy monologue while Bowerman pulled out paintings
and sketches from a back room to illustrate the various stages of his journey and the qualities of light and spirit he discovered.
Bowerman’s interview illustrates important features of the usually hidden years-long process of becoming an artist. His story, though
certainly unique to him, will be recognizable to many who have toiled to understand the thing inside them that they try to make manifest
in a physical form. Cézanne perhaps said it best when he described art as the process of “making a find.” That is, it is a process both of
intention and of happenstance. The usually hidden artistic process involved in distilling or crystallizing an artistic vision has little to do
with career and recognition and much to do with the mysterious urgings that lead an individual to try to express his unique experience of
reality. For Bowerman, that reality has been nothing less than an unexpected revelation.
An Interview with David Bowerman
JP BRIGGS: Where did you start on what you call your journey as an artist?
DAVID BOWERMAN: At four or five years old I heard a voice. To think back, of course, things get distorted, but there was something
that I understood from about that age that I needed to do in my life. It wasn’t like it was clear, but it had a very clear impact on me, an
imprint about something.
BRIGGS: Was hearing this “voice” a feeling or an actual event?
BOWERMAN: It was more than just an abstract feeling that floats. I can’t describe it. It was a very strong perception about myself that I
carried something within me, something that I had to accomplish. That’s looking back. But it wasn’t exactly that.
BRIGGS: The voice didn’t indicate art?
BOWERMAN: No. But by fourth and fifth grade the thing I most admired in school was drawing. I really didn’t do well in school. I felt
totally lost in my earlier years. My older sister was very bright, and my younger brother was very bright. It was a family of seven, but, really,
my older sister and next younger brother were the forces I felt lost between. I remember I admired the fashion drawings made by several
girls in class. I so much wanted to be able to draw. I would try, and it was awful. They were just messes. They weren’t even stick figures. I
had no concept of drawing, but I admired theirs. I developed the feeling that drawing was the greatest skill anyone could ever learn. I
carried that desire into seventh-grade woodshop. I was looking at the eighth-graders doing carvings with wood chisels. There was
something about these wood chisels that I was attracted to. The first time I got the chance to use a wood chisel to do a candy dish, there
was like an electric current that went right through me, and I had to stop. It was like, Geez, this is who I am, I’m a woodcarver. It was so
BRIGGS: Were there artists in your family?
BOWERMAN: My dad’s mother, a superb painter, didn’t get started early enough in life to have achieved something of value in her own
right. In between making progress with her painting, she had too many strokes to have ever crossed over into a viable painting career. But
she really had talent, and when she took lessons, everyone noticed that. My second-oldest sister showed a lot of artistic talent, too, so she
got art lessons. I didn’t get art lessons, but I felt the artist within me when I held that chisel. But it went nowhere because, being the oldest
male, you couldn’t be an artist; you had to go out and earn a living. There was no encouragement about it. Not that there was
discouragement, but my sister got the art lessons. Through high school I didn’t take any art courses. I didn’t even go to museums.
BRIGGS: But you still felt you were connected to art somehow?
BOWERMAN: I felt, without question, that was who I was. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had a teacher who was an artist, and I
produced one really good piece of work, a face. Then in eighth grade, I produced one really good piece of work, a watercolor imitation
of a stained glass window. Those pieces were nothing earth-shaking, but they were something that stood out. I was always doing things
with my hands. Around the house I could fix anything. I could make things. I knew I had this ability to construct forts; I could do carpentry;
I could do anything mechanical. I could take things apart, put them back together. I could look at all the pieces and they just made sense.
That’s not true for me about electronics. That looks like a mess of spaghetti to me, but mechanical stuff I understood.
BRIGGS: What happened when you went to high school?
BOWERMAN: By eighth grade, I finally got tired of my father saying, “You know there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be doing
exceptionally well in school.” I just got tired of hearing these little talks, the tension of me not doing well and not doing any homework. I
just was lost. There was just some kind of disconnect there. On standardized tests, I was scoring in the bottom two or three percentile. I
didn’t read the directions or didn’t understand; I don’t know what it was. I did score in the high percentile in the “special concepts”
portion. But then I had a great English teacher in ninth grade, and he really sparked something in me. From then on I did exceptionally
well in school. In high school, I took no art courses, but I did take an automotive class. I learned to take apart a car engine and put it back
together. To pass, the engine had to start. When I ﬁnished high school I said I don’t know what to do. Well, I didn’t want to go into the
Vietnam War, because it was 1967. I grew up in Michigan, so I decided I’d go to the University of Michigan College of Engineering
because that was a part of me I understood. But all the while I was internally saying, it’s really not me; I don’t want to be an engineer. But
that is the path I went. Well, I did well enough to get a scholarship to go to graduate school. I ended up with a master’s in industrial
engineering. I turned down all the jobs that came in from the big companies in the industrial Midwest. I wanted to go to Boston to live. I
had met a woman two years before who would be graduating from Wellesley and she wanted to live in Boston too, so that just happened
to work out. So I moved out to Massachusetts and lived in a dorm room, and started interviewing for jobs using the ﬂoor phone as a
place for people to call me. I got a job with Standex International. It’s a collection of different types of companies. Some were making
engravings; one of the companies made the rollers to emboss all sorts of materials, like the plastics you see on the outside of computers.
Another made pots and pans. They owned publishing companies.
BRIGGS: The company that hired you was making what?
BOWERMAN: My first year, I worked at the corporate office on various projects. Sometime in my second year, I began working for
National Metal Industries, in West Springﬁeld, MA. We manufactured institutional furniture, metal stampings for mops and brooms,
Christmas tree stands. Due to reorganization, the person who was president of the company I was in was promoted to president of a
group. He needed to find someone to replace him. Of course, I was at the bottom of the totem pole having started as a factory foreman
then becoming the engineering manager. But I got the job as vice president, general manager of the company. I was 28 at the time.
BRIGGS: Where was the inner voice during this period?
BOWERMAN: The inner voice was sitting at a desk! I felt I had been successful in so many different ways, and, yet, really a failure in the
one thing that really mattered to me: drawing and art. I was doing some drawing on my own. I was going to a new gallery that started in
downtown Springfield, the Zone Gallery. They offered an opportunity to draw a figure model. It was a struggle, but at least I was trying.
I’d go home from work at night, and I’d create gardens around the house which helped me develop my eye for form, composition, and
probably color, though that’s not why I did it. I just needed something to do with my hands. The biggest problem with office desk work
was that my hands didn’t have anything to do. My life is about using my hands to create something, whether it’s pruning the woods or
building gardens and digging the soil. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I love using my hands to create, to change something from
this to that.
BRIGGS: This was around 1983? What happened at that point?
BOWERMAN: One day the monthly newsletter from the Springfield museum came in. I opened it up and wow, there was my future
teacher. He had just emigrated from Russia. I knew he was my teacher because the announcement said he was teaching how to draw from
plaster casts. I forget the description, but it was very clear that, coming from Russia, he was trained in classical technique. I said to myself, I
can’t believe it, here he is. During a lunch break, I went over and put my money down. I didn’t want to miss my course; I knew who I was
finding. When the class started, I found out he had some private students in his studio. When I asked him, he said he wouldn’t take me
because I was too old to learn. But he also recognized something within me. We were about the same age. So I continued to go to the
museum class. But I went down to New York, and I bought my own plaster casts. I got the mouth of David, the nose, a couple faces from
Roman times, and I just started drawing them on my own. I built a studio in Granville, MA, so I had a place to work. I gave notice at the
business that I was going to leave.
When I took the drawings in, the teacher said, “Oh. Oh, Oh! Would you like to start as one of my students?” I said, “Sure.” “Well, when
can you come, because you’re working.” I said that as of January first, I’m done. I quit. I’m putting everything into this to see how far I can
GENETTE NOWAK: What was your teacher’s name?
BOWERMAN: Shimon Okshteyn. He’s in New York now, but this was the area where he was placed when he immigrated in 1979. He
immigrated because the Russians were going to send him off to Afghanistan to fight, and he didn’t want to go. But the Jewish immigration-
for-wheat deal allowed him to get out with his family. He ended up in Springfield because there’s a strong organization for Russian Jews in
this area, and it is close to New York.
So I studied with him, and I gave myself two years. I thought, if I don’t have something special after two years, then I’ll go back into the
business world better off than I left it. I’ll have a new commitment to that direction with something of value that I learned by going off on
my own and trying this out. Needless to say, I didn’t go back after two years. For a period of a year and a half to two years, I studied with
my teacher, though there were times when he didn’t give lessons. Drawing and painting was now a 24-hour-a-day job, seven days a week.
I kept drawing. Because he was a painter, I painted. I drew; I painted. I didn’t do any sculpture, even though that’s who I thought I was.
The first watercolor I did without his help was of a pewter pitcher. I spent eight hours drawing that pitcher before painting it. That’s
how determined I was. Eight hours!
BRIGGS: How have you been able to support yourself financially?
BOWERMAN: I used stock options from my business career. My current and former wives provided support. I have been able to sell here
and there to private collectors. Several close friends provided significant support. I worked just long enough to earn a small pension. I
have been fortunate to learn my art within as pure an atmosphere as is probably possible today.
NOWAK: (referring to the paintings on the wall) These have a very Russian feel to them, these people.
BOWERMAN: People look at the images and say they remind them of Indonesia or Russia, Africa or other countries. I think of the
paintings as really mirrors. Someone looking at them sees something both reminiscent and strange. For me, I didn’t try to do anything. In
fact, my goal when I started to paint was not an inner goal. It was an outer goal. I wanted to learn to paint just like a photograph. And I
discovered I’m as opposite to a photograph as possibly can be. I had no interest in drawing what something looks like. It’s the feeling, the
energy within a thing that interests me.
BRIGGS: So where did your obsession to draw like a photograph come from?
BOWERMAN: I think at that time I thought the ideal was to draw and paint something that looked exactly like what I was looking at.
BRIGGS: Do you think that idea that you needed to paint like a photograph was related to the earlier lack of encouragement? What you
described earlier was a feeling that you couldn’t do it, that you lacked the talent.
BOWERMAN: You are exactly right. I thought that if I could paint like a photograph it would be a great accomplishment and would show
that I had the talent.
BRIGGS: So it was a self-confidence issue?
BOWERMAN: It wasn’t a desire to be that photographic because I didn’t really like the photographic.
BRIGGS: Although, at the end of the day, it is the precision combined with the energy that characterizes the work.
BOWERMAN: Right, exactly. I had no idea when I started that I had any sense of color or that I would end up spending my time drawing
and painting more than doing sculpture. I was just going to learn to draw enough so I could draw my ideas. Drawing is the way an artist
BRIGGS: Your paintings are also sculptural, like they are carved out of wood.
BOWERMAN: The way I feel now is that I’m not a painter, I’m not a sculptor, but I feel like I can call myself an “artist.” I couldn’t say that for
a long time. Now I could take mud and sticks and just put those together to create the energy that these figures give off. I would find a
way to use any material I had available to create this vision. It wouldn’t look exactly like this because I might not have the precision with
mud and sticks, but I’d find a way to create using those within my own value system. So it would be something that would make someone
say, “this looks exactly like your work.” I have this energy that has to get out. I spend my time just releasing that energy. My art became the
visualization of my path towards self-understanding. That’s the bottom line. People ask, “What’s your artist statement?” and “What are
you trying to do?” I was only trying to get this force that was within me out.
BRIGGS: So, in your biographical narrative here, when did you begin to recognize that this internal energy was at play?
BOWERMAN: I was making some notes of it yesterday. I did one drawing that I thought, Wow this is great, it is like a photograph. I took it
in and my teacher just ridiculed me for it. He just tore me apart because it looked just like a postcard and had no heart and soul. I can still
hear his scolding voice.
BRIGGS: That’s why he was the teacher for you.
BOWERMAN: He let me know in no uncertain terms the most important characteristic in a work of art. He is also technically superb. He
helped me along that path. I can never be as technically superb, but he gave me the beginnings of how to draw as the old masters did.
And maybe as important, he gave me the beginnings of how to paint. I had never intended to paint.
BRIGGS: Did you recognize the truth of what he said?
BOWERMAN: I was devastated. I didn’t want to be devastated again. I didn’t do that anymore. And that was within my ﬁrst four or five
months of working in his studio, my first year of having left the business world.
BRIGGS: Not doing photorealism, what did that mean? What was happening? Was this part of that? (referring to a painting on the floor).
BOWERMAN: No, this would be me striving to do the precision. I couldn’t do the precision with watercolor. Now I can take this subject
and turn it into a very precise thing. But back then I didn’t have the technique to do it. I just wasn’t capable of doing any better than this.
But let me show you a black and white, some of the early stuff.
This is a drawing of a plaster cast, the anatomical man. The old masters used volume forms: the sphere, the trapezoid, a rectangular box,
a cube. That was the basis on which they built all their forms: the sphere, in which the mouth was built, or the trapezoid upon which the
nose was built. Depending on how much they reﬁned it, the viewer was moved away from being able to see the geometry, to seeing just
the skin and the essence of the energy that came from it. In a lot of work you can actually see the geometry. The French painters who
were doing certain types of work in the early 1900s; they just used the trapezoid as a nose and might have made a little nostril, but even
that became more abstract and less necessary, probably because of the camera. I was drawing skulls and in fact these are some of the
plasterwork sketches I made. This is a Roman head.
NOWAK: That’s a wild drawing.
BOWERMAN: The hardest thing for me, probably for most people, as soon as you see a lot of things in life, your brain starts to flatten
them out and make symbols out of them. So you look at an apple, but you really don’t see an apple. If you really are able to see what you
are looking at, you can draw it. Once my eyes started to see more, I could draw those parts, but for a long time I couldn’t see them. By
drawing from nature, by drawing all of this stuff, I was training my eye to see clearly. Painting does not train your eye to see clearly.
Drawing is the only way. It is what got lost when people used the photograph and then they projected the photograph. It isn’t really
training the brain to draw so that you can conceive. You are really limited in how you can create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-
dimensional surface, unless you understand clearly how it’s done. It goes back to the old masters. They understood the illusions very
clearly. In my first paintings I was really driven by form, trying to put what I was looking at onto a two-dimensional surface. I started going
to museums and really looking at Van Gogh and Cézanne in particular. Everything was so clear in their work, every speck, the color so
clean. There was nothing muddy or dirty. I really looked at them to try to emulate the clarity that they were achieving, which was not
photographic clarity but clarity of color, clarity of composition. Nothing was fuzzy because they had learned how to make it strong in their
own way. So I worked on that. After Cézanne and Van Gogh, other artists grabbed my attention. All these books here are a result of
finding an artist that somehow spoke to me for that moment, whether it was for a couple of days or a week. I’d go to the museums; I’d go
to the bookstores. They became my teachers. Some time during my second year of study, I moved from my Granville studio into the
building in Springfield where my teacher had his studio on the third floor. I was downstairs beneath him on the second floor. When I
arrived there, I didn’t want him interfering with my progress or telling me what to do or looking over my shoulder. I had to find my own
For the next eight years, I predominately worked from nature. I drew and painted still lifes. Drew from both portrait and figure models,
sometimes working with five models in a week. Apples, bottles, and models became my teachers. It wasn’t until around 10 years after
when I started that my imagination became the basis for my paintings. I still used models for studying faces and figures. I started a
painting of an imaginary face that took me almost three years to complete. This painting became a demanding teacher. This was a
commission from my older sister; she wanted a painting for her living room (See painting on page 99). I kept saying, “It’s not done yet,”
and kept going. I’d work on it and get comments like, “That is really good.” “I like it,” people would say. But my inner voice would say, No,
this isn’t it; this isn’t it. I had to learn the lesson: new skills, new colors, better forms, composition before the painting would release me
from its grasp. In fact, this voice still continues to direct me. In the 1980s, when I was first starting out, part of what the voice told me is
that the artist makes the invisible visible. This was when I began to believe this was my role as an artist. I didn’t even connect that this
meant my work had nothing to do with trying to recreate what you see with your eye. I just thought, well, the artist makes the invisible
visible. That was the voice’s message. I also had the voice saying that because I started so late I had to keep working until I got to a place
where I could have something that stands out, however long that would take. And I’m thinking oh, five years. I didn’t have the timeline. It
was twenty years before I reached that place. I believed so strongly in that voice that I didn’t strive to sell my work. The voice said every
time I did something that seemed of value, This isn’t good enough. It was like the door closed and I entered a new door. The message was
always, This isn’t good enough. It wasn’t until 2005 that this voiced message quieted down.
BRIGGS: In terms of what creators go through in their development, that sounds familiar. Van Gogh, for example.
NOWAK: Sounds very familiar!
BOWERMAN: All I could think of is how I didn’t measure up. And so then I would strive for the next one. Then I would think, what am I
doing? This is so hard. I’m still in kindergarten; I’m never going to get anywhere. I’m 36, and the question everyone asks me is, “What’s
your gallery? Do you have a gallery?” I wasn’t even capable of having a street corner, much less a gallery at the time. But that’s how they
measured success. I would show them some of the drawings, like this one, and some of the portraits. They would look at them, and I am
sure they said to themselves, “Man, you’re crazy.” They could not see what a portrait in that state meant. But someone who went this path,
a teacher, could look at that and say, “I know exactly where you are, keep going.” And so I was always lucky when I had the one person say,
“I know exactly what you are doing, keep going.” I was just so discouraged, so often. I never had a period of time in which I could whip out
a year’s worth of paintings and have a show at this level (page 99). The voice wouldn’t allow me to say this is good enough to stay at this
place. That is why each painting is a steppingstone. It was always moving from the next, to the next, to the next.
What has really driven me my whole life, the one thing that drawing was about—it wasn’t to draw a nice tree; it wasn’t to draw a nice
flower. It’s really about faces for me. Everything I have done is about finding the face I’m searching for. After completing the White Series,
I sat down and said to myself, What do I know now about a face? I was getting ready to leave, it was about 5:30, and I sat down in a small
room in my studio where I changed my clothes, and I just drew a face I knew instantly tied in with something deep within me. I recognized
something in this picture. So I started a series of pictures of imaginary faces, faces that were dressed like clowns or harlequins. Later I
coined a word and called them “piradellos.”
But I stopped doing these for the same reason I stopped doing everything. It was not the right time to get locked into a very personal
style, because I didn’t know enough. The door shut on these. I drew more portraits; I really tried to draw exacting faces. One summer I
drew maybe 50 portraits. People came in. Just with pastel, I whipped off portraits, as much as I could do in 45 minutes, a half hour,
however long they could sit.
NOWAK: With the piradellos, what was the catalyst for the clothing, the collars?
BOWERMAN: I just started to build on it; it was just instinctive. It was this inner voice. These faces were my doorway into something.
NOWAK: There’s no attachment to clowns, let’s say?
BOWERMAN: No, I have no attachments to clowns. The fact that they turned out this way is just purely . . . I just let my hand move across
the paper and this came out. That’s all I can say. This is just what happened. I really didn’t have the chance to enjoy making a group of
paintings at the level of knowledge that I had gained. I had to move on. It was just so frustrating, and my teacher was saying I didn’t have
any ideas because I couldn’t expand on anything I was doing. At some point, I looked back and recognized everything was very much a
continuation of one solid idea, right from the very beginning. But at the time I had this feeling, why am I doing this? It’s just so much
trouble, and, yet, I had a voice saying, You have got to work until you can find something of value. So after a while, when I realized I’m
back in this pain again, I knew that it meant I’m still learning. I still have a chance to get out what wants to come out from within me. I have
a chance to reach that level of ﬁnding something of original value. So all of a sudden I just stopped fighting it. I carried the pressure with
me. It was just a tremendous pressure of something wanting to come out.
I just worked all the time. It felt like going through clay most of the time. By putting in so many hours I got that clay to break up. The first
painting series were painted with a dark pallet. The second series, the white palette, and then I did a group of work using just pure tones
(page 106). These three series gave me a solid understanding of color. I could not very easily make something dimensional on paper. I
could pick up a piece of clay and form anything in a very short period of time and have something interesting, but on paper it was just
difficult. If I just did sculpture I never would have found this metaphysical vision. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I found it. I just worked
to the point where the energy connected and kind of presented it to me. It was in 1996 that I entered a period of darkness. Everything
appeared to me hidden by dark shadows. In this series, paintings appeared almost black in normal room light. When lit with a bright light,
they became luminous. It was during the process of entering the darkness and returning to the light of day, a nine-year process, the
metaphysical vision grew into being. There were times working on paintings like this (referring to the painting on page 101) that I was just
ready to jump out the window because every change in this required repainting the whole painting over again. If I changed the colors
here I had to—as part of this painting’s development—change everything. The painting is built with limited contrast; yet it has luminosity
and definition. Each spot of color is defined using a small brush. I might spend two days, 20 hours with a five-hair brush. I might have
done that 50 times to do this painting. It was the only way I could do it. I have documented maybe 30 different finished paintings that are
underneath this. People would ask “Why did you change it?” It would look good, and even I’d think I’m done, finally, and then the next
day it would look all wrong. Or that night just before I left, I would do something with the brush and all of a sudden the door opened to
the next level and it all looked terrible, and then I’d have to start over with it. I really began to understand, as I was doing this painting and
others in the series that I’m just this antenna. That my work made visible the energy flowing around and through me. I finally reached a
point where I really let go of trying to make a painting or sculpture what I wanted it to be.
BRIGGS: The work was out of your control. Did you recognize what came out?
BOWERMAN: Even now I have trouble relating to some of the work, although, as time goes by, I start to like it more. This face here I tried
to make a really beautiful Renaissance face (page 101). That would have shown growth from the painting of the face with two yellow
flowers (page 99), 1996, to a greater understanding of how Raphael painted his faces. I couldn’t finish the painting. I just kept getting the
face better and better. But there was always a disconnect between this face as a Renaissance face and the rest of the painting. I was just
going crazy. For at least four months, I felt what the face needed to be, but I would not allow myself to make this face. Finally one night,
just before leaving, I softly put these markings across the face. It was like I was standing totally naked in front of the world because there
was something so truthful about the direction that I was opening up that I was afraid of it. I wouldn’t let anyone see the painting and I
worked on it and it just made me very hesitant because I was so afraid of it. Over a two-week period I developed the new face, and it
became more and more in focus. I realized this really was the face. The painting started to finish. Everything started to fall into place. Just
like magic. It seemed I was going through a tunnel. I just kept getting closer, and I knew it. The luminosity happened and I reached the
end point. I was finally able to realize when a painting was done. The end point happens when every speck of the canvas has the same
equation, every speck is in the right place. This tower was very weak for a while because I didn’t have enough strength everywhere else
to have it strong and still sit in its place in the background. I found if I concentrated on the face, then I could paint everything else and get
close. Then I’d have to concentrate on the hat, and I’d do the hat, and I would repaint everything to bring it to the level of the hat. Then
I’d concentrate on the bird. In turn, I would have to look through each of the major parts of the painting to paint everything else. Doing
this a number of cycles, the painting started to tell me the colors that needed to be in each spot. Every color became exact. At some
point, all the colors began to vibrate and become luminous. It was like someone had flicked the light switch to “on.” All of a sudden, color
became light. I solved the painting. Now the rest of it was just perfecting it, fine-tuning. This painting was another one of a few that
became my teacher, taking almost three years.
BRIGGS: What was your experience with galleries and the whole question of your “career” as an artist up to this point? Many artists spend
a lot of time trying to get recognized and sell their work.
BOWERMAN: I had tried little bits here and there to get out into the world, but I didn’t feel comfortable because my work was still
growing like crazy. As soon as I got done with a group of work I’d have it photographed, and then I would send that out. But then the
work had already changed in a quantum leap to the next level. So I couldn’t be consistent and have something. I was never comfortable.
Plus, the dark work, 1996-97, was very hard to show in the gallery. The galleries I had access to were really looking for things that were
much easier on the eye and the wall. I went to a Chicago gallery in 1999. The owner had been shown my slides. She called, ﬁrst chiding
me for not having an answering machine, to send her some small pieces. I told her I would really like to come out to Chicago and meet her
and see the gallery and see what else is going on there. I knew I could not send just one or two pieces because they would not give a
good indication of what the work was like. But based on the slides, she expressed a strong interest. Of course a slide with the backlight has
a totally different look to it. I drove there with a group of paintings, drawings and a sculpture, arriving late in the afternoon. The gallery
interior was very subdued, just lights on the wall. You come in and automatically have to look at the wall because your eye is drawn
towards the light. I saw the work on the wall. “Why did she express interest?” I wondered. She might think my work is brighter, but she
should certainly know that there is no room in her gallery for my imagery. I unpack a piece and you can’t even see it. I said, “Let me show
you one in the light.” So I held it up in the light. She could see how remarkably it changes. It’s like a black hole, these dark paintings. They
absorb so much light that they need a lot of light. When they get the right amount, they’re luminous. They come alive. She said to come
back Saturday afternoon. I looked at other galleries and found one that might have been more interested, a gallery lit brightly. I didn’t
think she wanted to do anything, but when I went back and saw her in the afternoon, she asked, “You paint so beautifully, so why this?” It
was like she was going to throw up or something. She was very disturbed by the faces. They really bothered her; they were androgynous.
Neither one thing nor the other. She kept a couple of still-life paintings to see what kind of response they got. About a month later I got
them back. I talked to her, explaining I was making brighter paintings. I made some progress and sent those to her. They came back
practically over night. I could just see her shuddering when she saw them. To me they were brighter and lighter, but to her they were still
quite dark. That was my experience. I got return letters from galleries. They would write, “We could tell that this work is exceptional and
please keep us informed of your progress.” I’m asking myself, “Okay, well, what does this mean? But I’ll take it at face value and keep
BRIGGS: I think there was another experience, too, with the gallery world.
BOWERMAN: Yes, with a prominent midtown Manhattan gallery. In 2000, I showed them a photographic portfolio of older work and
newer work. The owner saw the combination of both things, and he said, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news, I
really think we can do something with your older work, and I like it. I have no interest in the newer work.” I started to mention the artistic
journey. He cut me off stating he did not care about that. So I told him, “What I mean is I have come back around to doing older work.” He
immediately invited me to bring the newer “older” work to show him. So I take the pieces down to New York and he says, “Ahh, I see what
you are trying to do. This is exactly what we are looking for. The still lifes are ready, but not the faces.” He wanted caricature or real. I was
striving for something different. But I couldn’t explain that to him. Without telling me directly what to do, he told me I needed to continue
to develop the faces and to return in two months. He wanted to show the whole artist, so I had to have the faces, too. I went back to the
studio and I said I know what he’s looking for. What do I do? I had already spent 17 years on this path to grow toward something; I knew I
still hadn’t accomplished what I was looking for. I still had this pressure. Do I give him what he’s looking for and possibly have some
commercial success? But I knew that once I stopped and started reproducing paintings I had no idea how I did them to begin with . . . All
these paintings were the result of just an effort of work, hard work to make something happen that wasn’t based on knowledge or an
understanding. They are all the result of, at that point in my life, trying to understand who I was, what I was doing, where I was going. How
I relate to the world. All of that. That was my emphasis, a personal journey of self-understanding. The paintings are probably all self-
portraits! I could copy it, but I really couldn’t reproduce it. How would I produce more of it for a gallery? I had no idea how I did it.
NOWAK: I wanted to ask you about the way you paint the frames of your pictures.
BOWERMAN: The frame really completes the picture. The work I show you without the frame has lost 30-40 percent of its energy. The
way I look at the work—out here is this energy and it flows through the frame. That’s where it begins to become visible. It flows into the
picture; it takes its form and flows back out again. Just like molecular particles. The frame is just a buffer between the world out here and
the world inside the painting. It’s very amazing how the paintings work. They reach out, grab you, and simultaneously pull you back in.
These two opposite actions happening simultaneously. I can’t explain it, it is just part of the mystery. They come to you, you come to
them, you ending up meeting and creating a holographic effect. Somehow, and I think it relates to how the mind possibly works as a
hologram. The paintings, built on a series of flat planes, somehow become very three-dimensional. But it is not a normal perspective. It is
not always easy to determine what is in front.
NOWAK: The idea of energy and the fact that the whole painting spreads onto the frames suggests possibilities.
(D.B. picks up another painting)
BOWERMAN: This painting here was very difﬁcult to do because I had to find a fine balance between the foreground and the
background, and yet there is equality, a very strong equality between them. This painting represents that point in which the darkness, the
metaphysical, and the light of the physical meet as equals. This was a big painting for me. It was like the culmination of everything (page
103). There came a point when, after one brush stroke, I just stopped and this pressure that I’ve felt since I was four or five years old
released. I was amazed, I’m free! It was such a palpable feeling of being free. Free that I was no longer on this journey of learning. I walked
around the easel with a light step. This feeling of release continues. I can now go back and do any painting along my path; I know how to
do them. I know where they came from; I know how to recreate them; I wouldn’t copy them, but I can do anything—in the darkness or in
the light . . . I became a master and owner of everything I had done. This painting (page 81) represented all that. It is a synthesis of light
and dark. You can sense the weight of darkness beneath the surface, a density supporting the light. But it’s not a shadowy darkness
anymore; it is vibrant darkness, distinct and luminous. It feels like it contains the whole universe from the past into the future.
BRIGGS: (referring to the painting on the Connecticut Review cover) What about that one?
BOWERMAN: The response from people to my work was often, “I love this. I see my life in it, but it really doesn’t belong to me. I am
changed from looking at it. Everyone should see this. It really should be in a museum (whatever that means), but not in my house.” I had
wanted to do work that was more personal so someone would say I could hang this in my house. Fortunately I received two commissions
in 2007 that pushed me in this direction. The copper vase of zinnia-like flowers was one of those. Now I have this branch of work that’s
more personal, less universal. It’s definitely my work. I haven’t reduced my work into something else to make a sellable product, but I can
also explore the unknown. I’ve started to stretch new canvases. Now I can do both.
BRIGGS: So, let me see if I can loop you back. I don’t know if you know the story about Georgia O’Keeffe recalling a memory—she called
it her “first memory”—as a child of less than a year old. She was sitting on a quilt on the ground with red stars painted on it, with a black
background and a white flower. It’s the kind of imagery that, of course, we associate with O’Keeffe’s painting. Evidently she also made a
journey through her art, back to that childhood vision. So let me ask you: that voice you talked about, was it a physical voice, something
you perceived like O’Keeffe perceived the quilt, or was it an abstraction, an idea of a voice?
BOWERMAN: I really feel it was physical. I really heard a voice. It was a real voice that said something one night. It can’t tell you what it
said. I woke up, sat up in bed. The voice said something that was so loud and so clear. It was an actual voice. I don’t remember what it said.
I think that voice has carried me through. One year I was audited by the IRS to determine if my art was a business or a hobby. The auditor
was very fair. She asked, “How do you know what to do each day?” I remember that I felt like saying to her, “I have this inner voice. Each
day this inner voice says draw apples today, draw bottles, a portrait, draw in black and white, draw in color.” This voice was real and I
believed in it enough to do as it said each step of the way.
BRIGGS: Was there a timbre to the voice?
BOWERMAN: It was definitely a male voice. I remember thinking of it at that time as the voice of God. I remember saying to myself, or
the voice said to me, “This is God!” I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve said that because it just sounds crazy. How much did I add to it
after the fact? I don’t know, but that voice is still in my mind. I can still sense it even if I can’t hear a distinct word.
BRIGGS: Does the tone of the voice bear any relationship to the metaphysics of your work?
BOWERMAN: The tone of the voice is this (pointing to a painting). I look at this as energy. The energy of that voice is this, without
question. It’s the same frequency. If it was linked to a machine and mapped, out of the equation of that tone would come the resonance in
this painting. That’s why, when I finished that painting, I just stood there. Wow! Unbelievable!
BRIGGS: So the voice was on the canvas in other words?
BOWERMAN: No. I was working on the canvas—
BRIGGS: No, the freedom you felt in that the voice had translated itself onto this canvas.
BOWERMAN: Exactly. Yes. I had no sense it was going to happen. I put another stroke of paint on, and there it was. The pressure just
drained away, and I had a tremendous sense of lightness and freedom. It’s over. I was just free. I put myself back in the shackles because I
stayed in the studio to continue the painting from that point, but I really could have left it. I had found out who I was. I found out what my
life was meant to be. I’m going along on this beautiful ride now. It’s hard because I am here every day. Ten hours, 12 hours, 14 hours, six
days a week. A demanding master, really, and I a willing servant.