Seeing at Sea review by Bob Sherrin – Canadian Art

Marcus Bowcott – Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver

Marcus Bowcott Anon 2008

Marcus Bowcott’s latest exhibition, “Thaw,” draws us into environments he knows well: the inner coast of British Columbia and the Beaufort Sea, seascapes of political and economic forces that have been steadily at work on Canada’s shores—now just another node in a global network. Bowcott’s work reveals his dexterity with abstraction, both as a form of painting and as a way of focusing the mind.

“Thaw” can be divided by surface subjects: seascapes with industrial elements, icebergs and contemporary forms of transportation. All but one of the 14 images is absent of people. So the word empty is an easy but inaccurate response. These landscapes may be without people, but the detritus of our existence is immediately evident.

Marcus Bowcott Alley 2008

Bloated, pale-white and anonymous, commercial aircraft are about to depart into an all-encompassing haze while another has just arrived out of dense cloud, wing light slurring through thick atmosphere. The seascapes are not just seascapes but booming grounds, with colours as mobile as light on slack tide, offering minimalist renderings of the shifting hues and lateral movement of water. Bowcott’s years spent on the deck of a workboat places his painter’s eye at an angle to the world that is unlike most others. These booms are actually the inventory of processing plants linked to clear-cutting, raw log exports and monoculture reforestation. It’s a form of extinction we humans practice on things around us as we perfect our many forms of suicide.

Bowcott’s compositions also draw the eye beyond the booms, through bands of water and light to a distant shoreline. Barely visible are nearly erased shapes: sawmills, factories, smokestacks. But there is no smoke. The mills are idle, factories down. Even the paintings of icebergs stress the space between ice islands, steadily widening as the islands melt away. Here, it’s not human presence that matters; it’s the evolution of a planet with no implied preference for our well-being, no interest in our definition of wilderness as regions untouched by humans. That classification places us outside nature; with hubris we “manage” the planet’s processes if only to reduce smog during Olympic Games periods.

Marcus Bowcott’s work, beautiful and unnerving, is that of an artist who understands painting as a form comparable to language in its power to focus the eye and the mind simultaneously. The seeing experience is the thinking experience. That’s why the eye lingers and roams; that’s why the mind poses answerless questions.

Marcus Bowcott On the Beach 2008