17 November – 16 December 2014
Toradh Gallery, Ashbourne, Meath
Cows. Why are they such a popular subject for paintings? In many hands, even when well executed, they come across as sentimental, chocolate-box images, anodyne and unchallenging. In Debra Bowden’s work, now showing at the Toradh Gallery in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, they are none of the above. Of the 24 pieces on display, the majority feature this benign-seeming animal, but its representation goes well beyond the simply bovine, reaching as far back as prehistoric times.
In its subject matter, execution and choice of palette, Bowden’s work evokes the primitive cave drawings of Lascaux and Chauvet. These works are fascinating. Were they recordings or decorations? A means of communication or ritual markings? Whatever their purpose, they are a vivid reminder of that most human activity: creation, and a rebuke not to confuse primitive with paltry or puerile.
The warm ochres and rough materials that Bowden uses – sand, pigment, mica – bring us on that heady journey into the depths of prehistoric markings, reminding us of our origins and remonstrating with us for assuming that in our evolution we have somehow left behind the primeval. Recently, there have been anecdotes about cattle becoming more aggressive, explained perhaps by their lack of human contact in an environment which is more industrialised and less peopled than in the past. When Bowden speaks of exploring that “empathetic relationship between man, his environment and the indigenous animals that inhabit it,” she is asking us to examine just how strong that relationship is now, and to wonder what we may have lost over time.
In this exhibition, Bowden shows six images from what is presumably a larger series – the numbering here is not sequential – of which ‘Cave I’ is the most dramatic. It presents to the viewer an animal that, although familiar in form, has nothing of the bucolic or pastoral. This is a beast, a force to be reckoned with, presented in strong, minimal lines and earthy, tactile media. There is confidence and coherence in Bowden’s conjunction of skill and subject matter. (more…)