Threshold Festival 2016: Featured Artist – James Bowman

James Bowman piece from 2015 Threshold Festival
James Bowman piece from 2015 Threshold Festival

The Threshold Festival of Music and Arts takes place 1-3 April 2016 in Liverpool’s Baltic area.
We are featuring just a few of the many visual artists taking part.
Number 4 on our list is James Bowman.

James Bowman
Featured Threshold Artists #4

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith for Art in Liverpool

James Bowman, one of the artists exhibiting as part of Threshold weekend, has had a transformation of practice recently. It’s a transformation that supports his life, his working methods and has a gigantic resonance with the theme of the festival this year; a theme rooted in alchemy, with far reaching implications.

There’s a few times in an artist’s life that something can have a transformative effect like this. Some happen to most of us early on – graduation, our first residency. Some happen intermittently – collaborations, discovering new philosophies. And some are much rarer. For this artist, it is the addition of a new member to the Bowman family (for anyone reading this, I can understand your trepidation – this is starting to sound like tabloid fodder, but bear with me).

Playfulness is what James Bowman is probably best recognised for, lauding skip diving as one of his primary inspirations. This year though, the time for playfulness has disappeared and been replaced with a new concise, focussed, approach to how he works, and it’s a good opportunity to enter an exhibition expecting the product of change. So anyone heading towards Threshold this year would be doing themselves a disservice to miss this addition to the festival. Regardless of what the artist actually exhibits, this show is a point of change in the career of an artist, something resonant with all creative practices.

But, there is work on offer, within all the change and the transformation, which responds more intentionally to the theme of Alchemy. While skip diving may be a thing of the past, “collecting industrial waste straight from the source”, as Bowman puts it, will be the defining process behind this work. Using those reclaimed materials as the building blocks for clear concepts, rather than experimentation.

The project has gone in a few directions, all clearly formed and ready to be shown at Baltic Creative between the 1st and 3rd of April. Possibly the clearest direction is his transformation of the concept of painting, using what would classically be termed as ‘sculpture’ to redefine the canvas, providing limitless constructs and compositions to question other more specific themes. One such theme is his reconstruction of old constructions to form a visual response “to the foundations of our existence… DNA”.

And it doesn’t get more formative than DNA. And I’m using formative very deliberately there, as there could be hours of discussion on the point that transformation becomes formation, and at what time that can be labelled an alchemical process. He says of his own work, and of alchemy:

Transformation sits at the heart of Alchemy. The transformation of materials from their raw state through artistic vision into heightened objects is such a magical process. Transforming our concepts of painting is at the heart of my practice so the theme sits succinctly with this.”

A statement that may well be the perfect introduction to this year’s festival, in all its forms.

You can see James Bowman’s work at Unit 51, Baltic Creative Space

James Bowman piece from 2015 Threshold Festival
James Bowman piece from 2015 Threshold Festival