Carolyn Gowdy
8 December 2006 – 10 January 2007

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CAROLYN GOWDY: Life is an Adventure

Christmas Exhibition: 8 December 2006 – 10 January 2007

Carolyn Gowdy was born in Seattle, USA, and has lived and worked in London since 1977, when she arrived here to study at the Royal College of Art. She has worked internationally as an illustrator and is renowned for her distinctive, narrative, almost fairy-tale images. Her paintings and drawings are usually populated by a cast of idiosyncratic characters that reflect her innocent, quirky humour and her ‘interest in humanity’. Her subject matter is simultaneously playful, reflective and philosophical.

Gowdy says that her work ‘explores the experience we call life, and the ongoing adventure, past and present, of human beings being human on the planet. Humanity is most definitely a work in progress, and I am a passionate and persistent researcher into the subject… I choose to align myself with love, light, grace, beauty, truth, magic and humour as much as possible.’ She says that she thinks of her pictures ‘not only as images but as objects, icons that hold energy. Life itself is something to celebrate, document, and preserve.’

Her studio is filled with painted cabinets with drawers containing transient, ever-changing and shifting arrangements of the myriad of small treasures that she has collected over the years – Gowdy regards them as a kind of installation sculpture that is integral to her iconography. In an imaginary self portrait in her studio, the cabinet drawers are depicted labelled with words and phrases such as ‘People’, ‘Places’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Observations’, ‘Memories’ and ‘Intentions’.

This exhibition is the culmination of a personal project that Gowdy has worked on in tandem with her commissioned illustration work over the past decade. She wanted to ‘explore and do new work’, and many of these paintings and collages are non-commissioned works, not made for anyone, or anything specific. Gowdy’s work references her life, and she says that much of her time has ‘been spent as a silent listener and observer of people and events, locally and around the world, reading, and in my studio. For about five years, I wrote regularly in a journal, and it helped to keep me in touch with an appreciation for small things, people and places that inspire me, moments and miracles that easily might otherwise have passed by unnoticed or forgotten.’

Gowdy says that she wants her art to be accessible and for people to connect to her images. Words and captions appear in many of her works: she says that ‘words mostly spring from pictures in my mind’s eye. When I draw or paint, it helps to let the pictures do the talking. Then I love getting lost in the conversation. So really the drawings and paintings, for me, are another form of writing.’

There is a strangely timeless yet nostalgic quality in her pictures, and they are constructed using collage elements from a wide range of sources from Dada and Surrealism, children’s story books, vintage ephemera and women’s magazines – actual items are pasted onto the picture surfaces, or else are painted in an almost trompe l’oeil simulation of collage technique.

In 1998, Gowdy had an advertising commission which resulted in a series of her paintings reproduced on a large scale on posters across the whole of the London underground as well as page images in magazines and newspapers – this encouraged her to see her work on a new scale, and this exhibition includes both large and small-scale paintings and collages,  as well as an installation of objects and sculptural works from her studio.

An illustrated catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition.