Chuck Bowdish: It’s Best Not to Annoy God

September 5 - October 7, 2012

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects presents It’s Best Not to Annoy God, a solo exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and collages on paper by the visionary figurative artist Chuck Bowdish (b. 1959).

Bowdish renders the personal as universal, synthesizing childhood memory, history and classical imagery to create surreal works that merge autobiography and fantasy. He combines sophisticated draftsmanship and rich art historical references with the primeval fixations of outsider art – like a mixture of Picasso and Henry Darger. Bowdish develops imagery from what he describes as “the logic of dreams” and the hazy fragments of memory, exploring themes of innocence, loss, violence and sexuality.

Bowdish weaves a personal cosmology that tells the story of his mythic fall from grace and the battle between good and evil. His images are populated with symbols of innocence (women, children and angels) and evil (mobsters, soldiers and FBI agents in overcoats and hats). Many of Bowdish’s reoccurring motifs, such as the Trojan horse, the bowl of fruit, the factory smokestack, and looming mobsters reference difficult experiences in his childhood and his struggle with mental illness.

Born in Ohio, Bowdish’s early life was a nomadic one due to his father’s military service. Upon moving to New York as a young man, he worked as an illustrator for the New York Times and Fortune magazine and studied at The New York Studio School and The New York Academy of Art. He is the subject of a documentary film by Peter Wareing entitled Chuck Bowdish: Painter and has been included in recent exhibitions in Atlanta, Williamsburg and Long Island City.

Bowdish’s work speaks to a range of contemporary figuration (Daniel Richter’s theatrical spectacles, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s collages), yet the classical virtuosity of his draftsmanship and his painterly iconography link him to Courbet, Balthus, Giorgio De Chirico and neo-classical period Picasso as well.

Bowdish’s collages juxtapose monochrome ink drawings with hand-written dream fragments and quotes by political figures such as JFK. He assembles his cast of characters on a reoccurring vast and isolated landscape, reminiscent of the American frontier, lending his collages a comic book-like ethos. It is as though, by piecing together the symbols of the past, he integrates his fragmented personal history and recasts it within a mythic global-political context.

Concurrently, SHFAP presents in the rear gallery an installation of three paintings by Earl Kerkam (1891-1965.) These three related late paintings, drawn from the artist’s estate, are among Kerkam’s most abstract works. Dating from c.1960-63, his classic self-portrait/portrait bust format is rendered here as a vertical rectangular color composition.

Earl Kerkam was a figurative fellow traveler of the New York School abstract expressionists. He was admired by Pollock and Guston, and best friends with Franz Kline (with whom he shared a studio). During the forties and fifties, Kerkam was like a wandering mendicant painter moving back and forth between Paris and New York, studiously avoiding the limelight, while simultaneously exhibiting in progressive galleries such as Charles Egan, World House and Poindexter. After Kerkam’s death, his friends (among them de Kooning, Guston and Rothko) petitioned the Museum of Modern Art to plan an exhibit in honor of the man who “in our eyes is one of the finest painters to come out of America.” Kerkam was the subject of a one man show at The Painting Center in 2011.