LINES AND TIGERS AND BEARS
John Mowder looks back on an artistic career
that sprang from carny roots.
By John Mowder
Through June 6: 681-6838
John Mowder was 10 years old in 1956,
when the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circus was
scheduled to perform in his small, isolated town in West
Virginia. The show never arrived -- but instead of sulking,
John sat down and drew his own circus. Thus began a
fledgling artistic career.
When he finished art school, Mowder
decided to try the big top for himself. Donning the carnival
barker's cane, the ringmaster's top hat and even the clown's
curled wig, he spent six months each year living in a
trailer, announcing acts and painting signs. And during the
other six months he'd come home to his studio.
After 25 years Mowder left the circus
and opened Bloomfield Artworks. "I was ready for a
change," he says simply. "I was ready to get off
But the magical quality of the circus
lingers, for despite a wide artistic range, from neatly
realistic to chaotically abstract, Mowder's palette is
bright and cheerful. His more romantic canvases portray
dunes and hills, twisting rivers and copper highways that
disappear into soft maroon sunsets.
Now, after 36 shows and four years as
director of Bloomfield Artworks, Mowder is finally giving
his own work the center ring. Filling the gallery's single
box-shaped room, his paintings, collages and prints brighten
the walls like framed pages from a children's storybook.
"Until I opened the
gallery," Mowder says, "I think people didn't know
about my other life." His paintings, though, suggest
not one "other life" but many. Works from the '60s
consist of basic, formless shapes arranged in earth tones.
By the '70s the colors had grown electric, paint streaking
wildly across canvas. A decade later Mowder's works were
calmer and more geometric -- and nowadays he creates actual
human characters, their skin pink and orange. Acrobats glide
confidently through the air, and wispy, angelic beings fill
the sky like clouds, hovering above beaches and houses.
Even his more avant-garde material is
charming: "American Symmetry" is a beaming
American flag with wide-eyed plastic doll's heads poking out
of each star.
After all this time, Mowder doesn't
miss the circus. "It's like a series," he
explains. "I exhausted it. But yes, I still have
sawdust in my shoes."