Artist Spotlight: Dean Bowlby
Editor’s Note: For summer, the weekly Student Spotlight feature has turned into an Artist Spotlight, highlighting professional artists living and working in Garfield County. Student Spotlight will resume in the fall.
Next week, Silt artist Dean Bowlby will be in Amsterdam for the first time, getting in touch with a part of his heritage and enjoying a new plein air painting experience.
But this week, he’s at the Blue Bird Cafe to meet with the Post Independent and talk about how he became interested in art, what he loves to draw and paint and how his craft has turned into a viable career.
Post Independent: What’s your connection with the valley?
Dean Bowlby: I grew up here. My parents moved over in what’s now Turtle’s Liquor. We lived in the back of it. I’ve gone away several times, but I really like it here. It was actually another artist that talked me into moving down to Silt. He said I’d love the light down there. So I moved, and I’ve lived there ever since.
PI: How did you get interested in art?
DB: I’ve always been interested in it, I just never thought it was something to do for a living. I never even considered that. But I’ve always drawn. It was just natural for me. Most of my family was much older. I was the only child, and I entertained myself always by drawing. We had a little black and white TV, and the most natural thing was to copy the things on TV. And I drew on everything. Finally we moved to a house, and I drew on everything that was my height. When we moved to our new house, my dad found a little room with a furnace in it, and he told me I could draw anywhere in here. So for the next I don’t know how long, I just kept drawing. I remember drawing in every little corner I could get — silly things, kid things. I wasn’t Michelangelo at 4. I wasn’t Michelangelo at 18. I’ve never been Michelangelo. It’s taken me a lifetime trying to be as good as I can be.
PI: Did you take any formal art classes in high school or college?
DB: I had a really good, kind-hearted art teacher named Dan LeVan [at Glenwood Springs High School]. I used to really try to hide it because if it was known you could draw or do something, you were automatically working on the homecoming float. But Dan saw me doodling all the time, so he pushed me toward it, even though I didn’t really do anything in high school. I think he finally got me to do 10 drawings and one painting, but it was like pulling teeth. And then he introduced me to another artist who had graduated about 10 years earlier. I had gone to college and come back, and I’d started a family here. I was still kind of doing art on the side, and he called me up and said, ‘This guy is coming back into town. You should go look him up.’ So I did. I went and met him, and he’s still a really good friend of mine. He became a mentor for me, and he was fun because he was very stoic at the time. The first meeting I had, he just wanted me to do some drawing, do some painting to see if I was going to be worth it. He wasn’t going to waste his time on someone who wasn’t serious about it. He introduced me to other artists and other places to go, and he became my informal education.
PI: When did you decide art could be a career for you, after all?
DB: After I extinguished every other possibility. I didn’t go to school for art, didn’t go to college for art. I aimed off in different directions countless times, but this is the one thing that kept working. I was always doing it.
PI: What do you like to paint or draw, and what mediums do you like to work in?
DB: Those are loaded questions because there’s not a good answer. The things I like to paint are anything that interests me in the moment, something that turns your neck. The mediums I use are just things that I enjoy. I’ve found oil paints wonderful, and I love drawing. Drawing can be done with a multitude of mediums. I like anything that’s tactile. Everybody’s plugged into a computer, and I’ve even got my little computer. I’ve become reliant on this thing, somewhat. But I still enjoy being able to touch something. I enjoy the dexterity that’s involved with mixing the paints and with drawing.
PI: You’ve taught, too?
DB: The teaching has just been fun. The principal knocked on my studio window one time and asked if I’d come down to the elementary school to talk. So I went down there and did a little one-week deal and really liked it, and he offered me a year grant, not as a real teacher, but just to come in to the kindergarten and first grade. And then he offered me a full-time position the next year. And that one year ended up 13 years of teaching. It was great, but it was taking too much time away from my painting. I still teach a little bit at CMC.
PI: Where can we see your work?
DB: Next week it’ll be in Amsterdam because that’s where I’ll be painting it. That’s kind of my life. I just take off and go work. I was just given this opportunity. Some friends, some clients said, ‘Where do you want to go in Europe?’ I was thinking about my mother. My dad always used to call her a Dutchman because her family was from there. I thought, I’ve never been up there. I’ve never painted up there. And I just lost her a few months ago, so that was the first thing that popped into my mind. I didn’t know anything about Amsterdam at all. I’ll have a wonderful time just painting.
PI: Do you travel a lot for work?
DB: I used to do it quite a bit. When painting really took off for me, I was painting on the East Coast a lot because I’d paint for different clients in Chicago, New York and Boston. So they’d send me tickets, and I’d go paint something specifically and just learned that I love traveling and painting like that. And then I could come home, which is wonderful.
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