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Artist Interview: Abigail Bowen

Abigail Bowen at home with the painting 'Cora'

Where are you from and how does that affect your work?

I was born in Brighton, but grew up just down the road in the port of Newhaven. There were hot summer days on the beach, but also the mournful noise of the foghorn, lifeboats, flotsam and jetsam thrown up by the tide and a ruined military fort sitting on top of the cliff. But, I think for anyone living by the sea, there is a special salty, milky light that gives everything a hazy quality. Mind you, it's different in Cornwall of course so maybe it's just a Sussex thing? Of equal importance is my Catholic education. I now realise that all that incredible iconography has hugely influenced the Sublime and transcendent qualities I'm trying to capture.

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

There are no prizes for guessing Turner. But I also adore Monet's water lilies, Rothko, Jules Olitski's 'Instant Loveland', Franz Kilne and the late, great Richard Serra. Weight or lack of it is a very important part of my work. His late tree drawings are wonderful. Actually the work that still leaves me speechless is Michaelangelo's Slaves. I'd love to see his Pieta in real life, although I know it will reduce me to a blubbering mess. lts all about the mood and atmosphere. I'm drawn to a beautiful gloom.

Tell me about your favorite medium.

I'm in love with oil paint. I love the history, the alchemy of mixing all the mediums and the whole ritual of pouring off the solvent. I have used oil based products since my foundation course when I used to drip linseed oil over sheets of brown paper so they became translucent. I love the smell, the buttery texture and the luminosity of course. People often mention the 'inner glow' in my paintings. But to be honest Michael Harding's Kings Blue Light and Cad Orange do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration comes from other art forms. Mostly literature or music. If I read a passage of text that touches my soul I'll jot it down in my notebook and see if I can imagine how that feeling will translate into a painting. For example, my latest collection is inspired by Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse'. There are many beautiful passages of text but I stuck this one; 'There was the silent apparition of an ashen-coloured ship for instance, come, gone; there was a purplish stain upon the bland surface of the sea as if something had boiled and bled, invisibly, beneath' on the studio wall, to remind of the mood I was trying to capture. In addition, I always say that I'm trying to paint 'The Edge of The Rainbow'. This phrase comes at the very end of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt as she expresses her longing to visit the place where imagination and reality mingle to create the space where all Art and Magic exist. That's the place I'm trying to paint. It's somewhere beautiful, but, like a rainbow it always remains out of reach and impossible to capture.

When is your favorite time of day to create?

I find that I have to paint as soon as possible in the morning, before I get distracted by anything else. If I can get into the studio and squeeze out some paint I can go for an hour or so before stopping for breakfast and endless coffee. Once I'm started I can take breaks without losing momentum and keep going until about 5pm. If I have to do something else in the morning, I find it very difficult to get going as the day progresses.

Describe how art is important to society.

It's another form of communication. Some people can write poetry or tell jokes. Others can play music or bake a cake. We are expressing our own feelings and when that connects with someone else it's so satisfying. When someone buys a painting, it's like they are saying 'I feel like that too'. 

What motivates you to create?

It honestly feels like a physical 'thing' inside me that I have to get out. The ideas percolate for a while. I often have a few ideas on the go and then it becomes impossible to ignore the need to get it out onto canvas.

How do you define success as an artist?

If I can afford to keep going back to the Art Shop to buy more Michael Harding Oil Paint and order pre stretched canvases from Jacksons, I'm happy. Of course there are always things I'd like to do or have, like a bigger studio and I'd like to visit Iceland to experience the light. But essentially I need my materials above everything.

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