Margaret Bowland, ‘The Artists Wig, II’, RJD Gallery

It has often been said that every artist has one story that he or she tells over and over again. My story is “what does it take to be loved”.

As a young woman from a small Southern town I was taught that the less someone knew about you the better. If you presented yourself as a blank page to a suitor, that person could project anything upon that page he wished to see. And you would be loved. What I could never understand was the worth of such love. If who I am is not being loved, then what have I won?

This conundrum continues to this day for other young women as they don the clothes, the make up, the very sentence structure that will allow them to fit within the category of the desirable.

When making works I have often covered my subject in paint to make this point. I feel that I am doing what the world does to my subjects, tries to obliterate them or turn them into people they are not. For me, the victory is that my people stare back at you completely whole, completely themselves. No matter the costume or the make up you are looking at an individuated and very real, human being. They have, or are learning to survive through what the world has thrown at them.

I am also keenly interested in the historical continuum of this. We have always done this. Cultures who were completely unaware of each others existence used the same white paint to adorn its women, the same fixed attitudes were taught to its men.

My paintings fuse the past with the present and slash into the future.

I have spent my life learning the painting techniques of the past in order to call upon the power of its language to speak about today. Like modern filmmakers I use the drama of the Baroque to evoke in the viewer through light and shadow a mirror of his or her own inner turmoil and hope.

The art of others has saved my life. When viewing a great film or standing before a great painting one is literally transferred to the skull of the artist. This is transcendent: it is magic. And in such a moment you feel in your bones what Caravaggio felt when in the presence of his subjects or what Alejandro Linarite feels when he directs his actors. This gift of art, this ability to leave your own soul and enter another’s is the gift that saves us. We are no longer alone. The pain may persist but the sharing of it is lessened by the camaraderie.

Money and its power have also transfixed me. I just did a show in New York called “Power” and it was about the power of money. Money is the true mute button on life. Those with money are not asked to honestly confront life. Money cossets them. Money can make people respect you, it can make people love you, it can even add to the days you have on this earth by buying you better health care. But it also distorts your own self-perception, limiting the very depth of our apprehension about what it is to be alive. We say we are on this earth to know what it means to live. However it is the rare person who would not prefer to see that reality from behind the rosy glasses bestowed by money. This is one of the greatest paradoxes of life.

This work is beautifully framed 71.75 x 53.75"

About Margaret Bowland

“Beauty makes sense to me, has weight for me, only when it falls from grace,” writes Margaret Bowland, who challenges notions of beauty, race, and gender in her figurative paintings and pastels. “My work is about beauty—what it means to be beautiful and what significance the idea has in the 21st century in the world of art,” she says. Focusing on people who have been historically marginalized, Bowland sees beauty as an attribute that both helps and harms those considered to possess it. Among the sitters appearing in her lush, large-scale compositions are young black girls and a woman with dwarfism. Bowland approaches each of her subjects with both tenderness and scrutiny, sometimes painting them in the guise of art historical figures or with accoutrements reflective of the stereotypes and expectations imposed upon them by society.

American, b. 1953, Burlington, North Carolina, based in Brooklyn, New York