Sunday, 8 March 2015

Introducing Joe Fowler

My current favourite artist is Joe Fowler.  He seems to be genuinely creative and I really like the way he works across media.  Joe does video, paints, sculpts and builds a pretty mean crate.  I am in line to buy one of his paintings but nobody has told me how much the one I want costs…yet.

Joe's most recent exhibition is called Object Says.  When I asked him about the title Fowler explained that is what a pun on "Simon says" – the kids' game.  It is on now in the Annex Gallery at Eastern Edge Gallery and it's worth a peek.  The show consists of three sculptural objects: a kind of piano, a wall installation and a smoke detector. The game Fowler appears to be playing with the viewer is:  the artist makes object and the viewer supplies the story.  

The sculptures all have functional references with a domestic theme.  My only real reservation about the success of Fowler's show was around this domesticity that I don't think gets expressed sufficiently.  On his website Fowler says this is a show in evolution so in the future I look forward to seeing how he resolves this weakness.

If I could buy something from this show it would be the piano piece.  Joe told me that he grew up in a house with "too many pianos".  I like his reference to the major and minor keys in black and white and how he replaced the ivory keys with light switches in the appropriate colours.  I tried to play a simple melody on the sculptural keyboard and was delighted to find out it really worked.  And thank you Joe for not killing any elephants in the process of making art.

I own a piece of jewelry made out of elephant tusk.  I nearly donated it to an art auction but when I showed the piece to an appraiser he simply said "they aren't going to get what it's worth.  Just keep it Gloria."  So I did.  The pendant is of a Buddha.  Ironically, when Joe and I were talking he mentioned ivory Buddha's and what they could possibly mean in different cultural contexts.  That reminds me, when I asked Joe about the influences on his art he mentioned Daniel Miller, the anthropologist.  I thought this was very insightful.  Personally, I have found anthropology very useful in understanding art and I discuss that in my chapter in The Culture of Craft. 

One last thing: the role of mystery in Joe's show.  I have been observing object makers in St. John's and they seem to come down to two schools.  Those who reveal and those who conceal.  Take a sculptor like Michael Waterman; he's from the reveal school.  Joe Fowler comes from the conceal school.  Waterman likes to show you the guts of his objects, their inner workings and Joe likes to hide them and make you wonder. 

Joe Fowler might turn out to be one of this province's best sculptors/painters/video guys.  I will watch his career with interest.

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