A time for change … the art of Milton Bowens By Rhiannon Rosenbaum

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New Years is a great time to think about change. It’s a time to remember the good and to allow yourself to heal from the bad. It’s an opportunity to reflect on your life and, for better or worse, who you’re allowing yourself to become. So let’s ponder a relevant set of questions ….

Have you ever seen a piece of visual art or heard a piece of music that has changed your life? If so, what was it? And how did it change you? It can be a work of art, a play, a poem or a song.

Go!

I’ll kick of the discussion with a story from my own life.

It was the year 1998 and I was 18 years old. (Yikes! That totally tells you how old I am, heh-heh.) I got my first part-time job with my Uncle Corey at his photography studio in California. My job was pretty simple: I was to weed out the undesirable photo proofs from photo sessions and then number those that passed muster. I loved working with my uncle. It was quiet and comfortable, and we basically chatted and listened to music for a few hours a week. It was the perfect first job.

One day after school I headed over to the studio for my usual shift. My uncle meet me at he door. He smiled brightly and said, “I have something really cool to show you and I think you’ll like it.” The first thing I noticed was that the studio was crowded with massive paintings. I was instantly interested. At this point art was already everything to me. I had already made up my mind by this point that I was going to be an artist professionally. But what I saw next let me know what kind of artist I wanted to be. The room was filled with dynamic post-pop, street-style collages that took my breath away. My uncle had been given the honor and task of photographing these beauties for an exhibition catalog.

And before I say what I’m going to say next, here’s a disclaimer. Milton’s work is all about black culture, community, and struggle and I have no clue what it’s like to be one of my black brothers or sisters. However, through these works I gained a deep, guttural, penetrating understanding of how utterly crooked and cruel the world can be and a nagging and hounding that I had to be a part of righting the wrongs in the world. And at that moment I knew I had to use  art to do it.

Of course it was a combination of so many small events like this one that lit a fire under me, but this one is vividly distinctive. So thank you, Uncle Cory, for sharing Milton’s artwork with me. It changed my life. Although my methods have transformed over the last twenty years, every time I sit down to paint, I think about this question, “Does it bring goodness into the world?” And now I’m not only a painter, but a curator. This allows me to apply this question on a larger scale. Are our exhibitions virtuous? Do they do good and not harm? Do they help people see what is true, to see the world as it is, in all of its ugliness and to refuse to stop there, but to fight the uphill battle of giving a damn, of holding onto hope and getting off one’s ass to do something about the ugliness?

To learn more about Milton Bowens please read this fantastic article: https://ubomag.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/miltonbowens.

What work or artist inspired you to create? Which pieces challenge you to make a difference? Please share your story with us!