Natasha Bowdoin's layered work, Garden Plot, delights with paper flowers and handwritten text.
INTERVIEW BY TALLEY DUNN PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN CLEMONS
NATASHA BOWDOIN, GARDEN PLOT, 2015–2018, PVC PIPE, GOUACHE AND INK ON CUT PAPER AND BOARD, 156 X 648 X 72 IN. ON LOAN FROM THE ARTIST.
Inspired by the woods and waters of her childhood in Maine, Natasha Bowdoin’s works often reference the natural world with sources such as botanical drawings, floral textile patterns and lunar maps. Bowdoin’s works investigate the intersections of the visual and the literary with layered ribbons of handwritten text and cut-paper reliefs. Her most recent and largest site-specific installation, Maneater, is on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art through 2019. I was thrilled to find a moment in Bowdoin’s action-packed schedule for a visit to her Houston studio to discuss the inspiration behind her extraordinary installation of Garden Plot, now on view on Level Two in Macy’s Court at NorthPark Center.
TD: Garden Plot is a monumental, mixed-media work composed of painting, drawing and text on a variety of materials layered in an explosive botanical garden of varying shapes and sizes, spanning over 40 feet in width and 10 feet in height. How did this site-specific installation begin?
NB: I actually started Garden Plot in the desert during an artist residency in Roswell, New Mexico. I loved the experience there, but the landscape of Roswell was truly strange to me. I grew up in Maine—down a long dirt road in the woods, near the water. As I was working in Roswell, I had this desire to create flora that wasn’t physically around me. Garden Plot started in 2012, with a text and then some drawings.
THE ARTIST INSTALLING GARDEN PLOT AT NORTHPARK IN AUGUST 2018.
TD: While your artwork varies in scale from handheld drawings to enormous installations, your medium is very often cut paper regardless of the scale.
NB: I think sometimes when people think about cut paper there is an attitude that it is delicate and fragile and dainty, which it can be. And while there is a lot of really beautiful cut-paper work out in the world, I am interested in the material operating in a more aggressive way. I like the idea of transforming the medium and challenging expectations. I also look at it more as drawing with scissors, and I see drawing as an ever-growing process. I try to have my own process of making art mimic the natural world—sort of growing pieces of cut paper, allowing them to accumulate, cutting something down from one piece and putting it up in another.
TD: How does an installation such as Garden Plot develop?
NB: When I arrive in a space, that is when the work really starts to get created—on the site. It is a little improvisational that way. It never really fits together the same way twice. And that is what I love about it: to have something constantly growing, changing and morphing like the natural world does in its own glorious ways.
BOWDOIN’S GARDEN PLOT IS INSPIRED BY THE NATURAL WORLD AND INCORPORATES TEXT BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON’S 1836 ESSAY “NATURE.”
TD: Your artwork often incorporates text in some way. How did this theme first enter your work?
NB: I loved to read as a kid, and in addition to art, I was also a classics major. In my work, I often find myself thinking about how the literary world can intersect and comingle with the visual world. The way I started to use text in my work was inspired by Surrealist automatic-writing techniques. I just sat down, drew patterns and wrote into them. There was no burden of making sense in my writing; it was purely just the process of putting words into a drawing. But that became mundane at some point, so I started to look for texts to force a collaboration with. A lot of my work has been in response to a found text that I start with. I make drawings and then transcribe the text into the drawings. You can see where the words creep in and out.
TD: What writers inspire you, and how did you select the text for Garden Plot?
NB: I’ve used text from authors like Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges and Herman Melville. Garden Plot grew out of a response to a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay called “Nature” that he wrote in 1836. It is a really beautiful writing and meditation on how we relate to and fit within the larger natural world. I also liked the idea of Emerson’s text itself being put into motion, perhaps especially because it is such a well-known text. What if those words moved around on the page? Where would a viewer enter and leave? It gets at my own ideas and questions about the act of reading, and my response to that text in particular, but my hope is that the images are fluid enough that without knowing the inspiration, the viewer can bring their own set of associations to the work.
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