New York

David Bowes

To visit David Bowes’ plein air visions was to catch pictorial history on the wing: to see life and art from an ever shifting array of vantage points. The clarity of focus of Bowes’ most arresting image—a moonfaced, nearly life-sized female figure in a capuchin gliding through a Venetian piazza—balanced the tumbling blur of light, air, and color that overwhelmed some of the other works. Though he brought an energy, a subtlety, and, most of all, a sense of joy to the sweeping double-sided triptych Greetings from Blue City, New Model Sculpture Screen, 1992, and to the equally vibrant Midsummer Morning, 1992, the eye was forced to turn repeatedly from the tangled kinetic images to the simple yet enigmatic figure bursting from Venetian Street Scene, 1992. Was it a woman on her way to a traditional masked ball—a Renaissance lady about to make mischief on the Grand Canal? What century are we in?

In Costume Players, 1992, geisha girls stand cheek by jowl with provincial com-media dell’arte actors, while Souvenir from St. Marks Place, 1992, refers both to New York and to Venice. Sculpture in the Open Air, 1991, a wonderfully free-spirited, smallish painting, placed in the gallery’s back room, seemed almost an afterthought. As much a time-traveling entertainment as a polite celebration of contemporary public culture, the carousel-inspired More Songs from Washington Sq., 1992, suggested Henry James by way of André Derain’s Fauvism.

Bowes’ whole show was something of a frothy, open-air confection. The work came off as somewhat inscrutable, even extravagant—evincing a delicacy of touch and genuine fascination with the medium of paint on the part of the artist. Only upon close inspection are the muzzy, candy-colored ribbons transformed from mere decoration into mini–narrative paintings in which couples skateboard, make love, steal, and dance in a blur of color. Ambitious and disorienting, Bowes’ various efforts to capture the spontaneity of life in the end take off in so many directions at once that they seem to comprise a Baedeker of the history of painting. In fact, he managed to make a day in the streets of New York seem like a pancultural tour of the world.

Linda Yablonsky