Inspired by classic literature and botanical drawings, artist Natasha Bowdoin creates multi-gallery exhibit at Visarts

Posted by: Amy – Jan 24, 2017


It’s easy to get lost in the art of Houston artist Natasha Bowdoin. Her use of color, spirals, and layering of paper makes her large-scale collages a treat for the eyes and the mind.

She’s the current artist-in-residence at Visual Arts Center of Richmond and her latest exhibit, “Lunar Spring” will open this weekend, featuring 2-3 and 3-D cut paper work, ink drawings, paintings, collages and some sculpture.

Spanning three galleries, “Lunar Spring” takes inspiration from literature’s magic realism and surrealism, including the short stories, “Distance of the Moon” by Italo Calvino and Bruno Schulz’s “Spring.”

“It’s sort of using those short stories as a jumping off point, what I like about Lunar Spring is it’s not a real term…it’s sort of imaging what spring time might be,” Bowdoin said.
One of the galleries will feature a series of Bowdoin’s small-scale ink drawings of the moon and its phases.

“Those are ink on paper and cut out so there’s different layers of cut paper,” she said.
The back gallery will feature large ink and color prints of moths that Bowdoin has made in the print shop at Visarts.

"They’ll be some big drawings that are semi-ink and gouache on paper, it's sort of like watercolor,” she said.

The large black and white installation (seen above and below) is the main part of the exhibit, which she’s been working on since she came to Richmond, incorporates paint, interwoven cut paper, wood, and vinyl. It spans the entire side of one gallery wall and some parts are layered to create a 2-D effect, and Bowdoin is taking it even further than that.

“It’s actually going to creep out onto the floor so they’ll be cut and painted vinyl that people can actually walk on,” she said. I like to make things that are immersive…they’re a little psychedelic.”

Pulling out a book, Bowdoin referenced several ornate botanical prints from the 1800s to the early 1900s which in addition to Calvino’s and Schulz’ short stories, fueled her inspiration for the exhibit.

“There will be other elements that come out into the space that are inspired by {the} old botanical drawings which is sorta where the spring comes in.”

This isn’t the first time she’s referenced classic literature in her work. In past installations, Bowdoin’s incorporated hidden text from Lewis Carol’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass" and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, “Nature.”

“I use a lot of words in my work, I literally sit down with a story and write it into the work. Kind of using text and raw material like paint that words just become another material to play with,” she said.

She said the three moon drawings have Italo Cavino’s story written into the pattern of the moon.

“It’s about trying to find a new visual experience of letters and language…” she said. “It’s sort of the DNA of the work, it's not important that the viewer be available to identify it.”

Bowdoin hinted that the main large-scale installation may have some words incorporated into the piece some of Bruno Shulz’ story into the piece.

Before coming to Richmond, Bowdoin was selected for a two-year residency at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston where she currently lives. She’s off leave from Rice University where she teaches painting, drawing, sculpture and collage.

Now that she’s here for all of January as the artist in residency for both Visarts and Quirk Hotel, Bowdoin said she enjoys having the time to spread out and create a large-scale piece.

“When I have the opportunity to really take over a space I get pretty excited and having a month to be here living and working really lets me get into something,” she said.

Bowdoin will give an artist talk and an opening reception will take place at Visarts Center of Richmond the next First Friday on February 3. Bowdoin’s talk begins at 5:30 p.m. and the reception runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Lunar Spring runs from January 28 to March 12.

Words by Amy David