2020 Emerging Artist: Kelsey Bowen

Kelsey Bowen, Billings, Montana

Ceramics Monthly: How do you come up with the forms and surfaces that are prevalent in your work?

Kelsey Bowen: I come up with the forms by fabricating a story. I’ll start with a single strong emotion or a memory that weighs persistently on my thoughts. I work to build a narrative that plays on these ideas, choosing the characters and their forms and gestures to best illustrate the story I’d like to tell. I love the process of inventing symbols for my narratives. I’ll place a figure on the back of a stationary rocking horse, dress rippling in the non-existent wind, to talk about the desire to run away from somewhere you cannot leave. I’ll play with how gesture can combine with an inanimate object to convey feeling, burying the face of a character in a soft, empty sweater they gently hold in their arms.

1 Kelsey Bowen’s For My Next Trick, 20 in. (51 cm) in height, ceramic, underglaze, fired to cone 2, 2020.

Because my subject matter can be heavy, I try to approach my work with a dark sense of humor. I work to create figures that hold an innocence and brightness, while also giving them a heavy burden to carry (or a sharp pair of scissors). My characters are very much inspired by old cartoons and fairy tales and they exist in their own world, apart from ours. This gives me freedom to play with how they interact with each other and how they navigate emotion and feeling. After making a sculpture that contains all of the sentiment and purpose I’ve coiled into it, I sit back and look at the object and feel the weight of it. Sometimes I feel like I’ve cursed my characters with the burden of my grief. Other times, I’ve given life to a quirky, personal memory that hangs playfully from the wall in a gallery, taunting another character I’ve sculpted to stand beside it.

2 Kelsey Bowen’s Round and Round They Go, 13 in. (33 cm) in width, ceramic, underglaze, fired to cone 2, 2019.

CM: Who is your ideal audience?

KB: I want my sculptures to inspire the viewer to tell a story. We each have our own voices and seek to find pieces of ourselves in the artwork we relate to. There are always people who want to know the personal story behind a piece, but there are also those who come bearing their own tales. I hope to hold a place where many different voices can hear their own echoes from my work, bringing their personal memories and stories to unravel the symbolism in my sculptures. Some people see the fairy tale, and some see the darkness. As long as my pieces continue to contain both, I’m happy with what I’ve made.

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