Interview with Jason Bowyer

With a solo exhibition coming up in October, Jason Bowyer takes time out to tell us about his background, education and influences that led him to where he is now, and how he really wanted to be centre-forward for Fulham F.C.

"I was surrounded by creativity as a child. My father painted when he wasn't teaching. My mother, who trained as a sculptor, took on commissions and she made a 1/3 life-size horse in our frantic domestic kitchen. When I was about fourteen, I asked her to give me a drawing lesson and she made me peel potatoes and draw the wriggling mass on newspaper. It was my first observational lesson and I enjoyed it. I liked art at school and I could never have enough time for it. In my sixth-form, I carried a sketchbook and drew all the time. My teacher was Steve Fisher at Chiswick School. He made me draw and gave me sound advice.


‘A commando course for puritans in paint’

I went to Camberwell for Foundation Art, the most important year, deconstruction after the myth of A-level exam success. I also did BA in Fine Art there. Drawing in all its many forms was a priority. It teaches you the basis of perception and imagination. Camberwell’s painting course was a commando course for puritans in paint. I suffered serious anxiety problems during my first two years but survived and learnt life-long lessons.


I sold my first painting on foundation to a lovely fellow student who bought it for £5 and tea at Fortnam’s. She was very attractive and I maybe should have pursued her. I luckily found my special Camberwell beauty in my second year.

The RA Schools Post Grad followed. This taught me how to enjoy the creative process and be organised. A lot of that was down to Jeremy Morgan, a fellow painter at the schools. I was using acrylic at this point and really enjoying its flexibility. I met a group of really fine artists there.


‘Keep going back to the subject’

I have always kept in mind simple phrases from my best teachers. Tony Eyton (my tutor at Camberwell) told me to "Keep going back to the subject." My father’s catchphrase when he noticed a work was, "That’s alright, do another one." He did not teach me; he got on with his work and did not interfere and showed me how to play a cover drive. The person who always helps you the most is the one closest to you and my wife Claire, a ceramic sculptor, tells me not to be hard on myself.


Artist . . . teacher . . . footballer . . .

I didn’t always want to be an artist. I would have like to have been centre-forward for Fulham and England and to have lifted the World Cup. I would then have gone on to be an artist. Strangely this did not happen. But I have always stayed fit and played football and cricket into my forties with Chiswick School Old Boys (Old Meadonians). I loved getting out of the studio and being part of a team. I have always taught and also worked as an adventure playground leader. I have worked in part-time teaching (Adult Education to Post Grad) for 35 years. It is something I have always enjoyed but I have kept it as the secondary part of my artistic life.


My first teacher at Chiswick School told me to promise him that I would not become a full-time teacher. I have followed his advice.


‘The artists you admire are your constant companions'

I have surprisingly eclectic taste: from the early drawings of Dürer and the paintings of Marc Chagall in my teens to a delight in Kurt Schwitters and Calder in Camberwell. I have always had a constant love for Rembrandt, Turner, Van Gogh and Matisse. The artists you admire are your constant companions through your career. They change, you develop, but the great ones shine through as your guides.

I think present influences are difficult to state. In my days teaching drawing at Farnham, the work of Fred Cuming  and the dialogue with Karn Holly  and Jonathan Trowell  were important. I have kept my friendship with David Parfitt who lives not far from me as part of my personal life. He is a great person to talk to about painting.


Recent work

I have been on the coast of Suffolk in the last two weeks, working on paintings I started last year [see images in Media gallery]. My first postings on Instagram were videos of the start of these paintings. I start with thumbnail sketches then go straight onto canvas or board from observation. The first impulses are emotional and then a process of interplay between gesture and structure guides the painting with critical decisions made away from the subject. I work in oils but also use ink and pastel - mixed media for studies. I sometimes make a work in one session or it becomes an ongoing battle for some weeks, months or years!


I think the most important work I have is the one I am working on at the moment. The only time we have is now.


Routine and organisation are vital to develop a career over a lifetime. The myth is that great artists are mad, bad and dangerous to know – this just sells copy.


On being a member of the New English Art Club

I became a New English member in my early thirties. I had exhibited when I was still a student at Camberwell and remember thinking, ‘What a load of fuddy-duddies!’ I think the strengths of the New English are its collective cohesion and organisation over the last thirty years. There is a willingness and generosity among the membership about drawing and painting; helping each other as well as themselves. It has brought me to an ongoing series of experiences about creativity, teaching and the commercial world rather than just staying in my studio. The New English Art Club is a great artists collective. It has been a major focal point of my career."


Find out more about Jason Bowyer on his artist profile page.

September 1, 2017