What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

September 16, 2021

Andrea Bowers
Energy with Intention
Vielmetter Los Angeles
August 21 - September 25, 2021

Andrea Bowers

As a self-proclaimed feminist and social activist who creatively fuses her politics with her artworks, Andrea Bowers is an artist with convictions. She seamlessly integrates thoughtful interpretations of current and historic events with beautifully crafted drawings, collages, installations and videos. The subjects of her projects range from international relations to women's and worker's rights and global injustice, as well as climate change. Whether a single drawing or a full-on installation, Bowers is able to communicate her commitment to social causes with sophistication and grace. Her work is never didactic or preachy.

For Energy with Intention, six large-scale mixed media works are dispersed across the spacious gallery. Six smaller drawings (studies for these pieces) appear together in a line on one wall. In the back gallery, there is a video from 2002 (remastered in 2021), Avenging the Ghosts of My Younger Self (Situated Between Minimalist Art and Arcade Games) in which Bowers is filmed performing martial arts movements and self defense kicks in front of flourescent light sculptures by Dan Flavin. Wearing street clothes that take on the hues of the lights, Bowers kicks and punches into the air throughout the 2:53 loop, never really interacting with Flavin's work. Knowing her attitudes toward the male dominated art world, specifically with regard to Minimalism, the video is a humorous jab at this canon.

According to Bowers, an ongoing theme in her work is the linkage between civil disobedience and dance and many of the gestures in the video have the feel of a beautifully choreographed dance. Her recent "Self-Defense Drawings" featured in this exhibition also focus on the relationships between aggression and dance. To make these new works Bowers photographed women from Los Angeles who are practitioners of different forms of martial arts and self defense. She asked them to wear street clothes and dresses, not the traditional martial arts uniforms. She then transformed the photographs into graphite drawings which were then enlarged and painted with acrylic and pigment ink onto surfaces composited together from hundreds of pieces of found cardboard. Bowers has been using discarded cardboard as the ground for her work since attending the Occupy Wall Street protests where she fell in love with the myriad iterations of cardboard placards. She states, "I think about these collaged cardboard works as monumental protest signs. The grounds are made entirely of recycled materials while simultaneously providing interesting content with the cardboard browns and tans. I wanted to show the beauty of the collaged cardboard, so I kept these drawings minimal in their use of color and line."

In Fighting Women, Maritza, Side Punch from an Arrow Stance (all works 2021), viewers are confronted by the magenta haired Maritza. She wears a cyan dress and appears ready to throw a punch. Outlined in black her body forms a triangle within the tan-colored collaged background— head at the top, feet spread wide, dress draped in between. The corrugated pattern within the cardboard becomes the texture of her skin. Bowers presents her as a powerful, dominant and threatening force. Fighting Women, Ivy, Jump Axe Kick depicts Ivy from the side in a long blue dress covered with a pattern of yellow sunflowers. While the subject's facial expression and body language depicts the aggression of the action, her clothing is uncharacteristic for this type of activity and an intriguing contrast. Like Maritza, she fills the entire cardboard ground. Her arms are positioned to protect her face and one foot is extended high above her head. Fighting Women, Sunny, Jab has no color. Sunny's short slip-like dress hangs just above her muscular thighs. A steady and descriptive black line defines her form, allowing just enough details to imply both the movement of her hand about to jab, as well as the determined expression on her face.

Each of the six portraits is the result of a collaboration between Bowers and her subjects. She chose to photograph live models rather than to work from archival or media images so as to have more control over the results. It is interesting to compare the original drawings to the enlarged paintings (the photographs are not available) to see what Bowers changed or left out. The smaller drawings are softer, the women more vulnerable than empowered. In the final works, Bowers presents larger than life-sized strong, self assured and determined women trained to protect themselves while still asserting their femininity.

Bowers offers a challenge to Minimalism through the creation of large-scale images of fierce women challenging the status-quo who, like Bowers in her video Avenging the Ghosts of My Younger Self (Situated Between Minimalist Art and Arcade Games) can protect themselves from anything that crosses their path.

Note: this review also appeared in Visual Arts Source (VAS) Weekly Newsletter, September 11, 2021