To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Natasha Bowdoin isn’t afraid to make art ‘off the wall’

Natasha Bowdoin ’03 believes that there is no singular correct way to create art. In an open Zoom talk for Professor Tory Fair’s course FA5B: “Blurring the Boundaries” at Brandeis on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Bowdoin explained that she has changed her art style many times and encouraged art students to do the same, to seek out new inspiration and materials to help find their voice. 


For Bowdoin, art begins with the source material. Her inspirations are diverse, from Roman architecture to “Alice in Wonderland” to Victorian botanical gardens to Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Her influences led her to explore a medium “off the wall,” making her art as otherworldly as the sources she pulled from.


“I was always frustrated by hitting the edge of the painting,” Bowdoin said. She explained that she wanted more space and more opportunity to expand her art, both in size and in style. Even as an undergraduate at Brandeis, Bowdoin was playing with texture in her art, using cardboard and tissue paper in her work, she said. “Anything had potential as material.” 


“Alice in Wonderland” proved to have a lot of potential for Bowdoin. Using the text, her work was less concerned with “maintaining the integrity” of the literature, and more with creating a visual that “pushes against expectations.” She showed pictures of her work “The Daisy Argument,” which debuted in the University of Texas Visual Arts Center in 2011. “The Daisy Argument” covers an entire room, creating flowers lined with words. In each bloom, there are quotes from Alice in Wonderland. The words themselves are hard to read, but that was Bowdoin’s point, choosing instead to focus on new shapes and new ways to visualize the written word.


Her current work grows out of her interest in the “language of flowers” which took form during the Victorian era when certain ideas couldn’t be expressed explicitly. Her 3D botanical gardens address the themes of “eco feminism” and what happens in a garden at night.


Her exhibit “Maneater” was installed at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in 2018. It shows a field of flowers and other plants crafted to look cartoonish, with bright red speech bubble shaped backdrops. On the floor, shadows and flowers creep out, making for a more interactive experience. Influenced by the world around her, whether that be Rome or Houston, she created this piece in response to the Trump presidency. “What kind of tone of voice would I want my flowers to have? A shout.” 


Bowdoin expanded her art even further, stepping into the world of performance. Her art is currently serving as backdrop to a show full of puppets and musicians. This is very different for Bowdoin, as she is rarely used to collaborating with others, she said. Bowdoin explained that this opportunity has given her both the room to expand her art further—this time into moving sets, backdrops and the ability to transport an audience into a new world—but also to work with others in a way that isn’t possible when sitting in a studio. 


Collaboration has not always come easy to Bowdoin. She now finds asking for help with her installations a necessary part of her process. She doesn’t “want to give up the intuitive nature” of how she works, but she wants different perspectives for her work.

Bowdoin enjoys making the floral installations, but when asked about future directions for her art she expressed that she was unsure. Her future pieces may be smaller in scale and “wackier.” She has interest in creating zines and implementing more figuration into her work. “Do I dig deeper or burn it all down,” she wondered. To follow her down the rabbithole, visit her website for more details.

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