Altar of Zeus
digital photograph on canvas 40 x 60"
Have you always lived in Southern California?
No. I came to California from Texas in '87 to find work and check out the art scene. I grew up in Dallas, Texas from age 5. Before that the family lived in Denver, Colorado. My first memories were of the Rocky Mountains that I could see from our picture window in the living room. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts during the last year my father was finishing his PhD at MIT.
Does where you grew up shape your artistic vision?
Some things from my youth have stayed with me in a general sense. I spent five years in the Boy Scouts and went camping and canoeing almost every month. Because of those experiences I developed a love of the out of doors. As an artist, initially I was interested in Texas landscapes and other local imagery because that's what surrounded me. After studying art history my horizons broadened. If anything, being in Texas for such a long time made me want to travel outside of Texas and outside of the country. I think once you are aware of the world out there you can never go back to a provincial view of things. I love landscapes because I love Nature and feel a connection with the Earth. The natural world as a subject however has become less specific to where I grew up and more generalized for me as a symbol or vehicle for artistic expression.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I think I was about 9 years old when I first saw a documentary on TV about Leonardo da Vinci. It completely fascinated me and to this day I consider him to be a mentor. I was drawn to his inventive and artistic life--such curiosity and knowledge and originality and mastery of everything. It is said that he is the last person to know everything, the complete body of knowledge his culture had to offer.
I had an early interest in taking pictures with my mother's Kodak camera. Then at age 16 I inherited my grandfather's Zeiss camera which set me off on a photographic journey that continues today. In addition to that I had a big interest in science and making things, seeing how things worked. Dad made a hobby room for us kids growing up with a countertop and drawers that spanned two sides of the room. We did all kinds of projects in that room for school and Scouting and you name it. I usually entered the science fair every year. I won several times. I won the grand prize for the science fair at my junior high school in the eighth grade. I was good with tools and good at anything tools could do. I was good at wood working, wood carving, clay sculpture, model making, candle making, plaster casting, lead casting and theater set designs. I learned to play piano, violin and classical guitar. I consider all of these things to be artistic pursuits that directed my life in art.
What moves you?
Curiosity, creative problem solving, inventing things, making things and making art moves me. I like practical things but I think art has always been on a higher order for me. There is something irresistible to making objects that have no practical purpose, something that exists simply to engage me, lift my spirit or transport my mind. Art is that for me and for me there is no higher pursuit than to make art. It’s my form of communication and how I connect with other people and the world.
digital photograph on canvas 48 x 32"
Can you share about your technique? Or is it a secret?
I don't think technique ever needs to be a secret for the simple reason that I am a unique person and any art that I make will bear my unique personality. If someone wants to use the same technique, their results will reflect their unique personality, style and ideas. Look at the Impressionists. They all knew the technique but each artist is distinguishable.
My technique for this body of work is simple. I use one long exposure of a second or more using a digital camera that I move during the exposure to blur the image onto the sensor. Any double or multiple imaging that appears is simply by chance. I have no real way of controlling or predicting what will appear in my camera. That's part of the fun of it, the letting go of control, allowing chance and entropy into the process. I don’t' do any software post-processing of the image that alters the form of the image. I only enhance the color and contrast.
I can tell you that I work very hard at what I do and that's another aspect to me and my working method for this body of work. For example, I went to Rome for a second time to photograph the Coliseum after not getting what I wanted the first time. The second time I went to Rome I spent a total of seven hours in the Coliseum spanning two days. I took over 900 pictures of just the Coliseum in these two visits to Rome and only one of those images satisfies me. I put only one image of the Coliseum in my exhibition portfolio.
Whom do you make art for?
I make art for myself first and then when it's ready, I will show it to you and everyone else. I think it has to be that way. If I'm not satisfied with my work then I can't expect you to enjoy it. When I first came to California I tried making art that was suitable for a certain gallery in Marina del Rey. I made some airbrush paintings that sold, but after a while I didn't enjoy making them. I felt like I was on an assembly line. I could have been making anything. I stopped making the paintings in favor of making art that meant something to me rather than some target audience out there. I've made compromises in my art that I'm not proud of while producing certain commissions I've had. I did the same thing when I was making functional art furniture out of steel and glass and selling it to a retailer on Venice Boulevard. I did it to stay in business. Those were really business decisions that went against my creative judgments. I won't ever compromise my artistic ideas again. It doesn't make that much money and it never makes good art.
Ty Bowman's exhibition at TAG opens January 31st.