Robert Bowers

26 January 1982 - 13 February 1982
Opening Reception 26 January 1982 8pm

West Gallery:

Robert Bowers will install a painted wood head that stands 6 feet high, fabricated in cedar 2 x 4s. (Working title: “PUBLIC WORK NO. 6”)

Mr. Bowers currently teaches in the Sculpture Studio at York University.

Robert Bowers
Parking Lot/339 King St. W.
Jennifer Oille
Vanguard, March 1982

Coming to Toronto in 1969, Robert Bowers found a city with no sense of public place, a town with intersections but no kind of interchange. Daily for a month, he walked the four corners of Yonge and Bloor, chalking round their details of bolts, graphics and graffiti, trying to understand where he was, what it was. Shortly thereafter and just down the road, he was instrumental in the transition of a gallery called Nightingale Into A Space, an alternative to all the established places privy to art and one of the first of its kind.

What has become of these parallel galleries is an open question; Robert Bowers has become one of the few artists to try and know what ‘public’ means. His is not work that would re-invent art with historic meaning through class-based social action; it is art in its historic connection, classified by a formal edge apart yet classless in its legibility, constructed in common settings for people to find and, if they please, see and not be confronted with a label for looking. A while back, Bowers put a platform in a section of a parking lot on King Street West. It could have been a speakers’ rostrum or some leftover equipment; it was neither and became a real part of the streetscape for regular passers-by.

On this same 14′ x 35′ plot, he has now installed a family of man, both a monument for now and a continuum of past into future. It is beside a wall, beneath some saplings and enclosed by a fence he built. At the back sits a Buddha cum Darth Vader, a male form in a female posture, a body of wood, its head and feet concrete, the top a tabula rasa, the base an anchor. By it is a child, on a pedestal like all traditional heroes, but so naturally awkward as to be counter-weighted. This pair, this representation, supplies the reading for the rest of the figures, figurations identified by head and stance. Down one row, the wife and husband stand calmly under crowns, one an arch, the other with phallic overtones, a juxtaposition expressive of marital fertility. Next the family, two verticals and one horizontal, has the totemism of a douglas fir, each post surmounted by a face – an eye, an orifice. Up the other row, the opposite members are teutonic knights, their menace worn in angled helmets, wielded swords, the cast of a hip, the thrust of a knee.

Each aspect is compartmentalized by a partition as apartments segment people. The whole piece, clued by the seminal pieces at the rear, reads as one body – the internal conflicts of a person at one and war with self; the people of a city pitted against developers and designers; the individual, aggression, idolatry, acquiescence. The enclosure, the fence, secures the family in the house, the private domiciled in the public domain.

The surface values delineate the symbolic significance from the colour densely overpainting undercoats of pink and yellow with international orange, institutional green, royal blue through the striations aligning wood into torsos to the structure, at once solidly stoic and suddenly altered in plane and articulation, the disequilibrium of contradiction. The scale of the parent, 7’1″, is sized to the public work not the private collection and sets, in effect, the scale of the rest; although backed against walls, all the figures are three dimensional and gaze outward and inward in the manner of every portrait ever set in a public space.

Contiguously, Bowers put a monumental portrait of himself in Mercer Union, the latest of the parallel galleries. For those who can make the connections, the suitability (or irony) is disarming. His seminality to this situation, the sardonic (or bemused) smile, from the first to the last, what has been, where has it gone. But I don’t think Bowers meant it that way. He built a pointing machine to demarcate the transferal of a plaster cast of his head into a wooden carving, standing the six feet of his body. It is a public image – but Bowers is not a public image in the way that the city’s self-styled celebrities would be. He is concerned with the way people see art, about the way they enter its gallery purview, the expectations established by that ambiance, the judgements that are expected of them. With this use of his face, Bowers intended to reverse the situation and address and present how he feels in it and about it. It is another one of his ways of bridging the gaps.

Through the years, his expressions have taken many forms that are part of a whole. It is about work, both labour and art, and the interaction of the public and private in sundry spaces; it has achieved everything with a sort of anonymity singular in a world where the star is the thing. The applicability of Bowers’ public work is the intense autobiography, the universalization of his intellectual conviction and domestic life – the woman, the child, the home.


Two sculptors reflect opposites
Globe And Mail, February 1982

Though they weren’t intended to work this way, the separate installations by Peter Bowyer and Robert Bowers, now on view respectively in the west and east galleries at Mercer Union (333 Adelaide St. W.), turn out to be mirror images of each other.

Where Bowyer is showing a scatter of 11 small-to-medium welded steel sculptures, Bowers presents a single, very large wooden construction. Bowyer’s works suggest some tentative references to things (tables, columns and so on), but are finally no-nonsense constructive abstractions, built up from heavy metal chunks, slices and macaroni. Bowers’ contribution, on the other hand, is a monumental self-portrait, six feet high from chin to crown, and six feet from nose to nape, fabricated from short lengths of Canadian cedar – a ponderous, whimsical, audacious piece of statuary that’s as far – away as it’s possible to get from the serious post-modernist dialectic of Bowyer’s work.

Both projects are solid, but Peter Bowyers’ pieces demand and deserve special attention. For the most part open-worked and architectural, these rusted and richly oiled objects seem poised like, ruins, between a memory of structural wholeness and a future as rubble. The interpenetration of metaphor (the ruin as a symbol of loss and the passage of time) and literal, material concerns imbues the best of these 11 pieces with an attractive, thoroughly modern sense of melancholy.