Life by 1,000 cuts: Natasha Bowdoin’s work on view at the SCAD Museum of Art, Georgia

Life by 1,000 cuts: Natasha Bowdoin’s work on view at the SCAD Museum of Art, Georgia

Art realised on paper – from Whistler’s delicate etchings, to Degas’ sublime pastels and the distinctive drawing of Picasso – is common enough, but the Houston-based artist Natasha Bowdoin’s work takes the artistry of paper to an entirely new level. Now, her singular work – melding found text, drawings, paintings, paper cuttings, collage and wall installation – is set to go on show at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia as a solo exhibition, ’Bloom’.

’I’ve long wanted to explore the actual experience of reading while always referencing nature,’ says Bowdoin, who trained at the Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia and the Slade School of Fine Art, London, and is represented by the Lower East Side Monya Rowe Gallery, the Dallas Talley Dunn Gallery and Extraspazio in Rome.

In the case of ’Garden Plot’ – an elaborate wall installation of quite striking visual complexity that Bowdoin has been working on for the past two years – she has chosen to draw particularly on the bucolic details of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s seminal 1836 essay ’Nature’ and Henry David Thoreau’s transcendental 1854 novel ’Walden’, as well as Ernst Haeckel’s printed illustrations of sea creatures and lunar maps. 

Bowdoin then elaborates on patterns conceptually derived from the text, drawing a series of abstract forms that reference petals and ivy tendrils, slender branches and marine life. Constructed of multiple layers of paper, some of her creations are then filled in with gouache and acrylic in a palette of moss green, azure blue, even vibrant orange. Other drawings are first inscribed with portions of the selected texts and then painted. Finally, works on paper are cut by hand.

Assembling ’Garden Plot’ for exhibition is an exceedingly laborious task, Bowdoin first preparing an on-site wall painting, before hanging the cut paper pieces on dowels directly on top of it. And the dimensions are, well... garden sized. The version of the work shown at the Roswell Museum and Art Centre in 2013 was 28 feet across; this particular iteration will extend more than 40 feet across and take an exhausting 11 days to install.

’It’s an invitation,’ Bowdoin says, ’for the viewer to enter and contemplate the realm of nature.’

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