Getting ‘Beastly’ With Local Artist Paige Bowman

We haven’t seen anything comparable to the illustrations of Vancouver-based artist Paige Bowman. Her bold, graphic style and outrageous colour choices (i.e. lots of neon) are about as unique as her otherworldly subjects.

We had to know where all this energy and imagination comes from, so we decided an interview was in order. You can currently get up close with some of Paige’s creatures by heading to the Slice of Life Gallery’s Holiday Market, happening daily until December 15th (find out more).

Your images are very dynamic. What fuels your inspiration and gives you creative energy?

Textures, patterns, sickeningly bright contrasting colours – ones both synthetic and found in nature. I get as inspired by densely woven textiles and beadwork just as much as I do when I see the variations in species of moss that grow on rocks and trees. I like masks and dancing, the concept of embodying a character or myth, or taking on the form of a non-human entity as a means to express emotion. I like imperfection and earnestness. I like movement and rhythm, and radiating the feeling of restlessness.

What do you find the most draining?

I find inauthenticity and obsessing over perfection draining.

Over the past couple of years your personal style feels like it’s transformed from a more polished and commercial look to something more primitive. Can you tell us more about this transition?

Recently, I have found a renewed interest in working from an intuitive place in order to focus on that which is ephemeral and fleeting, conceptually. This is why primitive mark-making and scribbling, less deliberate attention paid to colour theory in favour of being sickeningly bright, and other looser forms of expression have played a large role in my recent work. I’ve learned to let go and take more risks lately. I like informality and imperfect mark-making a lot, which is a huge shift in style from the work I was doing earlier in my career, where I was more concerned with line and patterns. Over the last couple years, I was given a lot of encouragement from mentors to make work that I like rather than work for an audience, which I think played a big role in me embracing the process of making messier, more disorganized pieces – all of which has been hugely rewarding! The result has been a relationship with my practice that feels holistic and natural and, subsequently, therapeutic for me to engage in.

You recently completed an illustrated bestiary of sorts. A project like that must have been an intense process! What was the biggest challenge that you encountered?

The Bestiary was a collaborative project between me and my friend, Nick Pockets, who’s a multimedia artist and animator. We made it for this past Bass Coast, as a part of the festival’s interactive art forest that exists between the music stages. It was part live-painting activation, part projection mapped display, that was also motion interactive through Microsoft Kinect. Every day I painted a new organic environment on our 8’ x 8’ surface, and at night we projected a new creature on top of it, with projected ferns that could be pushed away with your hands via the Kinect’s motion capture capabilities. It was intense for both of us because we went into it with a lot of vision and very little knowledge of the software we were using, as well as an amateur knowledge of building surfaces and projectors. The biggest challenge was rigging a projector into the tree facing our projection surface with no solid platform for it to rest on – which we resolved by supporting the projector with sticks recovered from the forest floor, pulling and pushing the projector inch by inch on all sides until it was at the right angle without making it fall, and a shitload of ratchet straps to keep it from doing so. The final aesthetic of our projection rig was laughably amateur, but had a lot of character that was a beautiful metaphor for our determination.

What was the most rewarding discovery that you made? How did you feel after it was completed?

For me, the most rewarding discovery was executing an ambitious project through a lot of unwavering, unfiltered faith and being resourceful within our surroundings, while feeling super insecure with how little we knew about what we were doing, amongst many seasoned artists who had a lot more experience than us surrounding us on all sides. It ended up being a favourite install in the forest for a lot of people attending the festival, and being reminded of that by strangers approaching while I worked was incredibly validating. I think it is emblematic of my relationship with my work: having a cool idea, not knowing a thing about logistics, but jumping into it anyway and trusting that the learning will come through the process of just doing it. Don’t think, just do. Let your anxiety fuel you.

Going back to the beasts — can you please explain your particular fascination for these creatures? Where does it come from?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve just been fascinated by the “bad guys” of the animal kingdom! I like big teeth and scales and intense eyes and reptile tongues. When I used to play with my friends, I loved pretending I was one of the scarier creatures, rather than one of the cute or pretty ones. My mom always lamented this and asked me to draw gentler things! There’s a lot of beauty overlooked in monstrous animals and things that get a reputation for being brutal or rough. I’ve always been drawn to stories involving mythical creatures built off my favourite animals, the ones that are less celebrated, like crows, pigs, and wild dogs. I’m bored of the narratives we build around majestic or “beautiful” animals, or that the so called bullies of the animal world must be restricted to being depicted as evil or malicious. There should be more crossover between those two worlds. Personally, I’d much prefer drawing a beautiful fat crocodile with four eyes.

Which animal ‘beast’ – real or imagined – do you most relate to and why?

The Michigan/Minnesota dog man, a cryptid from the 1800’s. He’s basically a werewolf, but less menacing and more meandering and weird. I have a recurring character in my work that I call “dogman” who’s a genderless lanky figure with a vaguely dog-like head and pointed ears the same length of their face, that grows vines and roots out of their limbs. Someone put me onto the myth of the Michigan one while discussing cryptids, and I learned that in the 80’s a local radio station in a small Michigan town played a song about the legend of the Dogman, based on the hundreds of reports that exist on the beast, on April fool’s day – which is my birthday. He also apparently has blue eyes, which I happen to have, too. So, through all of these coincidences alone, I’d probably choose him.

Besides Bass Coast, you’ve worked on some other music-related projects. What are you currently listening to when you’re drawing/painting?

Typically hour-plus long techno and deep house mixes by local talent like Sam Demoe, Max Ulis and D.Tiffany. Lately I’ve been really into Octo Octa, a queer DJ from New York who makes euphoric, hypnotizing, love-filled house music. I also listen to a lot of Nicolas Jaar, Four Tet, DJ Koze, and Shlohmo, and I have a soft spot for Drumcode and Adam Beyer. Electronic music makes up a huge part of my life and creative process. The other week I went to an after-hours alone to see Nathan Micay, a young DJ from Toronto who plays a lot of 90’s trance and acid house, so I could dance for four hours straight. Aside from that, I usually have Beach House and Bjork’s discographies on repeat.

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I’ve read somewhere that you place high value and importance in sketching and sketchbooks. What is your sketchbook like? Do you have multiples going at once?

A large part of my thesis this past year was focused on sketchbooks. I wanted to highlight their significance as a resting place for the most ephemeral, intimate parts of being an artist. I find that I make my best work in informal spaces where less weight is placed on the final product and I can focus more on process, experimentation, and risk taking. Sketchbooks are a place for fleeting thoughts, half-baked ideas, thumbnails, names, book titles, notes, addresses – I try to always have at least one on me or nearby. The one I’m currently working in was started in February and is now nearly filled. It’s a particularly messy one, with a lot of unfinished ideas and half finished drawings, but also lots of full spreads of gaudy mark making and nonsensical animal forms and plants. I also keep one in my fanny pack for whenever I don’t have my regular one on me; that one is extra tiny and forces me to work much smaller than I’m used to. Ironically enough, that one carries the most life drawing practice of all my sketchbooks.

If we were to have a peek inside of some of your early sketchbooks, what would we find and what would it tell us about you then and now?

That for a long time I was horrified of colour. Though I can’t think of a time where I didn’t have some kind of drawing receptacle on me, I’d say the earliest completed ones that I still own are from high school. When I was in my early teens, I was convinced I would become a concept artist for film or video games, so those sketchbooks had lots of fantasy and sci-fi character designs – the bulk of which were done with pen or pencil and little colour. I went through a collage phase when my art teacher dropped a stack of old NatGeo mags off in our classroom, so one of them is a Moleskine only filled with collage. Towards the end of grade 11, I started getting really interested in dense pattern making and forming creatures out of those repeated shapes and ornate designs – which was sort of the origin point for the work I’m making today. I also drew a lot of embarrassing fan art through most of my high school days, so there’s a treasure trove of that hidden away in some of those books, too.

I have to ask about gel pens. Can you please explain your love of  them?

Yes! They’re among the most underrated inking tools available, specifically the Jelly Roll ones – they come in a huge range of colours, they’re hardy and will show up on top of most other materials including, which I’ve discovered recently, oil pastels. They’re cheap and last a fairly long time if you take care of them, too.

What issues/subject matter do you hope to tackle next? What upcoming projects are you most excited about in the next year or so?

I’d like my political interests to cross over into my work more, as I’m equally passionate about politics as I am with my creative practice. Next year, I am going to be doing my first gallery show, which will be a series of collaborative works with my close friend Kira Buro based around the theme of climate change. Through the work, we’re hoping to navigate our relationship to the land we inhabit, and subsequently the impact of capitalism and neocolonialism on that unceded land, and what the reclamation and reverence of it may look like based on our cultural backgrounds as settlers. They’re going to be really big pieces, and I’m excited to sink into the process of working large scale again. I’m also planning to do more work at Bass Coast this year, this time more centered on live painting.


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