The Art Spirit Gallery exhibit “The Grace of Dexterity,” which ends Saturday, features four artists, and one of them is California native and current Billings resident Kelsey Bowen.
Bowen is a clay sculptor with a style that captures the emotion and complexity of adulthood while maintaining the curious mind and innocent nature of childhood.
Many of her pieces depict half-mammalian creatures with human bodies and the heads of woodland creatures such as deer, wolves and rabbits. They are reminiscent of the “Peter Rabbit” stories from childhood and darkly humorous and whimsical Wes Anderson films.
Bowen’s love affair with figurative sculpture began in a high school art class under the tutelage of Eric Just. Later, after learning she could make a career from her art, Bowen would go on to pursue a BFA degree in ceramics at the California College of the Arts, a school once attended by her great-grandfather in the 1920s.
Eventually, she landed a residency at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana. It is there that she began the process of discovering her identity as an artist.
“My job was finally just to make work and be in the studio, and I absolutely loved it,” said Bowen, who Ceramics Monthly recently named a 2020 Emerging Artist. “I tapped into making what I wanted to make, not because I was learning in an academic setting, but because it was finally my time to just create work purely because I wanted to.”
Since moving to Montana, Kelsey has taught at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, demonstrated at Bismarck State College in North Dakota and hosted smaller sculpture classes online. Through teaching, Bowen has unearthed yet another talent and passion. “If I can get anyone else as excited by ceramic sculpture as I am, it’s just the best feeling,” she said.
Bowen now works out of her home in a nook behind her kitchen. The change in location came with complications like having to travel to borrow kiln space, but it has ultimately seen yet another period of growth and self-reflection. In the past, Bowen got much of her inspiration from listening to the stories of others and used the emotions connected to those stories to develop her characters.
Now, she finds that the more she allows herself to incorporate her own personal history into her art, the better the art is received by others. “I feel like I can be more playful and take time on my pieces because I’m the only one that knows what’s in the works,” Bowen said. “I’m learning every day about the importance of evolving myself to meet my art practice halfway. As a studio artist, there is no day off.
“I don’t clock out or go home mostly because my kitchen is full of half-sculpted rabbits and wolf heads, so the professional side of my life blends into the rest of it. I’m always sketching, thinking, emailing, planning, scheduling and building. There’s always the pressure to find the next show, network with the right people, be approachable on social media, and the level of work is intense.
“But, through all this, I’ve learned that I love it all. I mean, you’d have to! Every time I finish what I’m working on, there’s a new story or character tapping on the window to my studio ready to become a new piece.”
This year, Bowen will be showing at Clay Studio National in Philadelphia, the Duo exhibition with Margaret Keelan at the Intandem Gallery in Bakersville, North Carolina, and Radius Gallery Holiday Show in Missoula.
Her work will be available for viewing and purchase at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene until 6 p.m. Saturday.
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