Image Copyright of Natasha Bowdoin, see more at natashabowdoin.com
A novel becoming a sculpture. Pieces of paper becoming an environment. Art valuing nature and creating life. This is the epitome of Natasha Bowdoin’s work. Since her time at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA, Bowdoin has focused on paper as her source material and has learned to manipulate it in ways that astound the viewer.
In the early 2000’s, she started working with text to incorporate the written word into her sculptures. She chose books she cared for, for example Alice in Wonderland, and transcribed them onto her own paper, which she then manipulated into a 3D wall sculpture as seen on her website here. In this method, she explored the significance of text for herself and found that she was simply connected to the words in stories she read and loved. In this exploration, she encourages others to view text as more than just words strung together, but as a medium of creating physical art.
This physicality is something Bowdoin experimented with for years. She toyed with process, methodology, and size with her paper cuts in order to get to the pieces she has exhibited. From cutting slivers of paper and overlapping them, to creating abstract oceanic forms, to designing clear botanical forms, Bowdoin pushed her limits with each piece, mainly literally in size. She once said in a lecture given at Brandeis University that if she was not given deadlines, she would continue with a single piece for years. Part of her never truly feels finished with a piece. Her largest piece to date, called Maneater, is currently on exhibition at the Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts until 2019. This piece can be described as an environmental piece as it takes up an entire hallway within the museum. When standing in front of this piece, it is nearly impossible to take it all in at once. It requires walking slowly, pausing frequently, along the length of it. It is not only the size though that makes the piece feel as though it is encompassing the surroundings of the viewer; Bowdoin layered pieces in some places so that the piece enters into the same space the viewer is standing in. By adding pieces to create a more dimensional piece, the viewer is forced to interact with the piece. This confrontation adds an element of surprise and connection with the audience in a way not many other artworks achieve.
Besides size, Bowdoin also presents the physicality in a very fluid, continuous fashion. Especially in her older pieces, she exhibits intricacies and complexities in her pieces that really capture the audience’s attention and create a feeling that the piece is constantly growing. In other words, each piece seems to live, breath, and grow on its own as if it were a living thing. The details of each piece are precise forms that come together into a single structure, teeming with color, shape, and sometimes text. To consider the process she endures to create each piece is to be able to consider the dedication she has to her pieces. Each work requires hours upon hours of construction and thoughtful purpose. Bowdoin makes it clear that she uses each material with intention.
It is through these intentions that themes of nature truly show through in Bowdoin’s work. Even from the very beginning when her pieces were more text based. From the very beginning of her career, it is clear to see she values nature and the beauty of it. Bowdoin holds the state of Maine dear to her heart as she spent a lot of her childhood adventuring in the nature there. She has gleaned much inspiration from the environment she grew to love as a young girl and illustrates that love through her art.