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It must be a milestone of some kind. Joe Bowler, the renowned Hilton Head Island artist who enjoys a national reputation, has had close personal ties to the Red Piano Gallery on Cordillo Parkway since his arrival on Hilton Head in 1972. But it is just this year that he truly joined with Morris & Whiteside, at what now is their gallery housed in the historic Red Piano location. Jack Morris and Ben Whiteside will represent him, officially.
What a concept and what a perfect pairing. It was cause for celebration March 11 at the opening of the exhibit which features his stunning work.
"It really is ironic," Bowler said. "Of course there have been many changes at the Red Piano over the years, but every time I visit the gallery and see the historic Red Piano or the Artists' Roundtable, I'm so reminded of those early days and my important artist friends. We got together each week as we discussed issues of art and of the art scene in New York. Artists like not only Joe DeMers and Coby Whitmore, but Marge Parker, Elizabeth Grant, Ralph Ballentine, Aldwyth, Jim Palmer, Walter Palmer and George Plante."
IN THE BEGINNING
You remember that Bowler, who has had an enormously successful career in both illustration and fine art, began his pathway to artistic success as a boy in New York City. His earliest days were spent at a small illustration studio in the city where he worked as an intern. He ultimately landed a position at the Charles E. Cooper studio of New York City, the country's leading studio for illustration. During that same time he continued his studies at the famed Art Students League of New York.
His is a kind of a fairy tale story as one day he was observed creating an illustration of his own. The watchful eyes were Whitmore's, already a well-known illustrator, who was impressed by Bowler's artistic outcomes. Whitmore suggested that he might take the young man's work to be seen by a professional associate. The illustration was an enormous success. Bowler was not only paid royally for the piece, but was given the opportunity of creating more illustrations for a number of high profile magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's and the Saturday Evening Post
His career at Cooper flourished and so did his association with Whitmore and DeMers. Their roles as mentors would have a lifelong affect on Bowler's work. Even more important, in a way, would be the impact of their lifelong friendships.
"Actually, it was Joe DeMers who encouraged me to come to Hilton Head and perhaps to even show my work at the Harbour Town Gallery," Bowler said. "I was convinced in two visits that we should absolutely make the move out of New York and down to Hilton Head."
The demand for Bowler's work in all his customary formats continues. This new exhibit at Morris & Whiteside will certainly bear that out. Additionally, he has been featured in numbers of exhibits throughout the country, and was awarded Artist of the Year in 1967 by the Society of Illustrators and was inducted into the society's hall of fame in 1992.
A striking characteristic that we see in Bowler's work is that it always has been and continues to be narrative in nature. That is, it is focused on people and their emotions or participation in life, whether it is illustration, fine art or portraiture. His portraiture often features subjects of high profile. This was, of course, also pivotal in those earlier days, helping to bring about Bowler's transition from illustrator to fine artist and portraitist.
Over all of these years, Bowler has experimented with a number of mediums, and early on conte crayons or gouache were his medium of choice. And though he continued to experiment in medium and technique, it was his combining figures, shapes and patterns in a representational format that set him apart from many of the artists in the New York art world, and which impacted his "trickle down or trickle up" from his Hilton Head location.
His work was and is, innovative, and over time he has worked in styles that move him away from the completely representational. That said, under any circumstances, at the core of his artistic intentions, his narrative work is still about color, value -- warm and cool -- and composition.
We have enjoyed his journeys into the intricacies of abstracted work or the handling of his brush strokes, the energy at which he applies color to canvas.
The most recent work at the rear of the gallery is knock-out, and includes 12 pieces, all impressively stunning, graceful nudes. All created in burnt sienna with a little bit of black and white, and his "fade away" Bowler fingerprint. As is always the case, Bowler's images are drawn from live models, one who has posed for him for close to 30 years.
Allow yourself plenty of time to look deeply into the images and savor the complexities of his outcomes. Though Bowler does not set out to demand our attention, he draws us into the work, and causes our gaze to move thoughtfully among the compositional intricacies.
As we wrapped up our time together, I asked Bowler what he had planned for the afternoon, the rest of the week, the next six months.
"This will sound ridiculous," he said with a chuckle. "I am completely committed to painting every day, because in every painting I do,
I learn something. That is what it