Stephen Bowers

1953 - Present

Biography

While maintaining a respect for the master techniques, Stephen Bowers' flamboyant and exuberant ceramics combine a classical ceramic heritage with inspiration from indigenous sources and are spiced with dashes of wit. His work is distinguished by intricately painted underglazes which "wear its expertise lightly".

A variety of historical styles form the basis of his decorative explorations, whilst porcelain and textile traditions, copper plate book illustrations, and contemporary material such as comics and magazines provide further inspiration for his designs. As Bowers explains, "I like that rich ornamentation, but I also like defusing it, giving it a slightly funky edge."

Typical works include T Pots and T Caddies which showcases Bowers refined glazing talents. The smooth surface bursts with rich and elaborate decoration, reminiscent of Florentine designs of the late Renaissance. Australian themes are seamlessly integrated with classical forms. Bowers is an instigator of a new consciousness in Australian pottery, thrusting our native flora and fauna into the limelight as a legitimate form of decoration. He skirts the edge of the kitschness while investing authenticity into the use of Australian symbols in the hope of developing our native visual language.

Close observation of the ornate but seemingly innocent decoration reveals an array of visual and textual puns: The cockatoo a favored image converts the cliché "Polly want a cracker!" to "Cocky want a cuppa!", whilst the headdress of suplhur crested cockatoos, sublimely suggest the trace of a question mark. The enigmatic question mark, a favored symbol of the artist, reappear often with where blue cockatoos sporting dapper bow ties.

Bowers also explores the constructive notions associated with pottery. Vertical lines demarcate decorative borders, but also playfully conspire to create a visual juxtaposition by appearing to impose a hexagonal shape in place of a circular one. While architectural and ceramic traditions have provided rich subject matter for Bowers, he has recently started searching for architectural opportunities for ceramics. It began with his Palaceware series, which consisted of two highly decorated, and large scaled jardinieres, created to his specifications by Mark Heidenreich, which are now in the Powerhouse Museum. Piecemeal 1995, which was one of his entries in the 1995 National Craft Awards, continues this investigation, albeit on a reduced scale. The decorative imitation of marble is maintained with the addition of shards of pottery to the plate design.

Included in the cultural and textural quotation are examples of the Chinese Willow pattern and English porcelain from the Industrial Age. On close examination of the painted pottery shards, the viewer is entertained with odd and absurd vignettes, such as the Kangaroo with a drawer for a pouch and road signs attached to Roman columns.

Stephen Bowers' pottery with its lustrous surface and epicurian displays elements of pastiche and parody, which combined with his ironic edge, transforms his work into a postmodern ceramic collage. Perhaps more importantly, Bowers' work is a significant contribution to the continued growth of a sophisticated Australian vernacular ceramic tradition.

Sophie Ullin

1.Peter Timms Gold Coast Bulletin, Oct 19, 1991
2.Stephen Bowers in Mansfield. J Contemporary
Ceramic Art in Australia and New Zealand,
Craftsman House, NSW 1995, p.90.

 

View Stephen Bower's works in our stockroom

Exhibitions

2003
The Vitrified Image, Hyde Gallery, El Cajon, San Diego, USA (NCECA)

2002
Det Dansende Vaerktoj, Museum of International Ceramic Art, Denmark

2001
Auriferous, Bathurst Regional Gallery

2000
The Plate Show, Collins Gallery Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Modern Ceramics, Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles, USA

1999
Mostra Della Lustro, Gubbio Italy

1998
SOFA, Chicago, USA

Achievements, Collections & Commissions

ACHIEVEMENTS:

2002
Euro Chocolate, Gualdo Tadino, National Collection, Perugia, Italy
Australia Council VACD Grant, Studio Residency in Italy
Commendation, Cowra Festival Art Award, NSW

2001
National Ceramics Acquisitive Award, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, QLD

1996
National Craft Acquisition Award, Alice Springs, NT

1991
Tenth National Ceramic Award, Gold Coast, Qld
Museum and Galleries National Acquisition Award, Darwin, NT

1990
South Australian Ceramics Inglewood Award, SA

 

COLLECTIONS:

AUSTRALIA:

Artbank, New South Wales
Art Gallery of South Australia
Art Gallery of Queensland
Art Gallery of Western Australia
Arulen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, Northern Territory Craft Collection
Australian National Gallery, Canberra
Bathurst Regional Gallery, NSW
City of Box Hill Art Collection, Victoria
City of Whitehorse Art Collection, Victoria
Collection of Craft Victoria
Gold Coast City Council Collection
Inglewood Ceramic Collection, South Australia
Janet Holmes á Court Collection, WA
Kumagai (Australian) Collection
Museum and Art Galleries of the NT, Darwin
Parliament House, Canberra
Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Queensland University of Technology Art Collection, Brisbane
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston
Shepparton Art Gallery, Victoria
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
University of New South Wales Visual Arts Collection
public, corporate and private collections

INTERNATIONAL:

CIAK, National Collection, Perugia, Italy
Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art
Museum of International Ceramic Art, Denmark
National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, USA
public, corporate and private collections

Bibliography

Peter Timms, Gold Coast Bulletin, Oct 19, 1991

Mansfield, J., Contemporary Ceramic Art in Australia and New Zealand, Craftsman House, NSW 1995, p.90.