Marcus Bowcott – Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto and Vancouver
Marcus Bowcott is a Vancouver-based artist and art teacher who showed at the Bau-Xi galleries in Vancouver and Toronto last summer. His “Hull” series of paintings has a marked narrative quality. They are cautionary tales reminding us of an unrecognised presence in our midst – the transport hulls that move the manifold objects of our desire from places overseas, to us. The massive transport ships depicted in older works such as Big Fat Daddy and Prairie Ways #2 (both 1996) are the elemental forces of Bowcott’s story. They are beast-like or monstrous, and along with them come hints of the excess, the domination of water, space and culture it takes to get our commodities to us. But at the end of the story, there is not even the faint hope of, say, ecological activism or a politics of conscience. His hulls wind up beached, discarded and deserted, mythical reminders of what we have made necessary.
Bowcott’s recent work continue this line of representation, but with further implications.
Many of the pictures in the show comment on modern art movements. In the “Arctic Night” series, the peace conveyed by the impressionistic seascapes of the first five works is broken by the imposition of a monster hull in the last, Arctic Night 6. In the “Kerfuffle” series there is a similar breakage of aesthetic serenity. In Kerfuffle 1, a bulbous hull enters from stage left. The edge of the top of the deck of this vessel follows a complex curve that bifurcates the sea and space that it moves through. But we are so close to the hull that realism is lost to an abstract shape. Abstraction slides into power; power into abstraction. Slow Curve(2002) works the other way. We are shown the wakes and ephemera of colour left by the movement of a mass through water and space – a hull that we are not shown and which we must infer. What, we ask, formed this powerful sign of passage, this beautiful wake? What caused this singular impression? The ironic narrative is most evident in Changing Light I and Changing Light II, in which, with an expressionism reminiscent of Frank Stella, an array of pale colour spots floating in water is quietly disrupted by a shadow in the lower right corner. It appears to rise like a ships hull, casting its shadow forward as it moves over the water. Again we see the implication of power; in the depths of abstraction lie forces that haunt the surface. Bowcott’s technique shows this understructure of materiality directly and with no flinching; the hulls and wakes are required by our desires. Barthes and Baudrillard could comment on this work, though Bowcott’s two points of reference, the narrative and the painterly, are so at odds that any precise statement about consumer culture falters. Bowcott shows a darker history, a seaborne event, and it looms indefinite, powerful, edging into oour aesthetic vision as a threat.