PRISCILLA FOWLER

PRISCILLA FOWLER

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My current art practice began with a conflation of the concepts of “happy accident” and the “artist's hand.” I grew up in an era when machine-like perfection was the goal of human hand-work. I remember sophisticated stuffed dolls sewn by my aunt and cousin, beautiful tatting by my great aunt, perfectly-even stitches in the knitting of a friend, the extremely refined and precise woodworking of my grandfather. I grew to appreciate the skill and discipline required by such work, and the resulting beauty. I was envious of those who could achieve this level of perfection. So when, in art school, I learned that with practice I myself could achieve such near-perfection, I was at first quite proud of myself.

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But over time those results became less interesting to me than what resulted when “accidents” happened. “Accidents” created interesting formal (color and compositional) problems to solve. Also, the distinctiveness of my “hand” as compared with that of other artists (for example, in life drawing classes) became something to take note of. This combination of accidents and “hand” became fundamental to my understanding of art and artists, and helped me see deeply what distinguishes one person's work from another's, what constitutes a particular artist's authenticity. I came to see this: the compelling gorgeousness of a watercolor, even from a master of that medium like Winslow Homer; or the nuances of an oil wash on untreated canvas, such as from Elaine de Kooning; these came NOT just from “perfect” technique (i.e., skill with materials) but also from the subtleties of the working process of that particular artist.

More and more, as I grew in my art practice, I wanted to use and explore both notions—accident and hand—and I found that the best way to do this was by playing with materials, which gave me great joy with their unpredictability and challenge.