ArtYard & Paul Bowen: Drift

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Frenchtown in the Delaware river Valley NJ is home to a fantastic new arts center with cutting edge programming: take note art lovers, ArtYard has come to town. ArtYard is a not for profit, state-of-the-art facility with two floors of exhibition space, sculpture lawn, black box theater with chic little bar and a tiny store. It is spacious, light, and beautiful: everything about this place is “feel good” and functional. It overlooks the river where bikers and hikers pass on the Delaware Raritan Canal State Park Trail an old railway track. The facade is a sophisticated blend of metal overhang elements (think Chelsea Meatpacking) and smart graphics with a large welcoming entrance. The pitch perfect brick building, designed by architects Ed Robinson and William Welch, was inspired by 19C industrial factories. The new center weaves itself perfectly into the historic fabric of Frenchtown NJ.

I watched ArtYard grow from afar on social media before I made my first trip here. What a delight to see something of this caliber in the sleepy town where my family lived, where I met my first “real artist”, on the site of the Kerr egg hatchery, where I worked weekends during college to make money for art supplies. Of course, in a way it made perfect sense—within an hour from NYC or Philadelphia, in a charming, unspoiled town. Artists and writers in fact, had been coming here to hide out, for many years.

Four shows are currently on view. Paul Bowen: Drift is a solo show and upstairs there are two related shows—As Is, curated by Benjamin Albucker and Margaret Parish, antiques dealer and artist respectively, which gathers formerly functional objects into an upbeat and curiosity piquing show, and Shoes, A Love Story, curated by Jill Kearney, featuring sixty pairs of shoes that weave personal histories together with the objects on display. In the Courtyard Gallery Michael Mangino: Paint is curated by Studio Route 29, an art studio for people with intellectual and development disabilities. It is a solid show of abstract works on paper.

The anchor show is Paul Bowen’s Drift which makes exclusive use of found objects, largely wood. On display are works of sculpture and drawing with a predominance of weather worn wood which imparts a somber mood. Black and white paint and fabric are the other materials and colors that enter in. Bowen focuses on the formal and compositional aspects of his materials. Found wood, like a dusty old barn, has its own perfume that metaphorically never leaves. One need not have skill in the traditional sense to make art works with found objects since these things often have their own intrinsic beauty. The challenge is to be able to risk that beauty for a larger idea, and here there are works that embrace that risk.

Blue Boards is a rough and elegant piece with anchoring horizontal planks tinted a blue wash. Two delicate oxidized raw wood “frames” with tiny boxtail joints are incorporated, one in seemingly precarious balance, as if casually tossed there and stuck. The contrast between the delicate form and color and the hanging frame keeps you on edge. There is an epic yet intimate feeling to this piece.

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Paul Bowen, “Blue Boards” 2022 wood, chalk

Maze presents two overlapping panels sitting propped away from the wall, evoking an open book. The left has a graceful decorative edge, like the back of a bench. The other, partially hidden, has some casual chisel marks and a framed border, like an old slate board.

A black patch of Asphaltum covers these two. This blanket of black, has a purposefully shaped wavy edge that imparts a push-pull effect offsetting the back from the front piece. The use of Asphaltum, an unusual artist material, gives the edges a thick and interesting texture. There is a loose loopy maze made of incised concentric rings, a kind of abstracted flower or quarry form. Pieces of it appear to have been lifted out and replaced, leaving open cracks, negative spaces, defying categorization.

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Paul Bowen, “Maze” 2014. Wood, fabric, asphaltum

Some works suggest a narrative and seem to be in a moment of arrested movement. Flyer, hung just above eye level, confronts us with a muscley vertical element that slices the space into tilting and leaning towards us. It gives a little jolt and uplift and a slight sense of menace like the feeling one gets standing at the bow of a very large ship at dock, foreboding and majestic as it bobs with the waves. Bowen is clearly attracted to the ring or circle form and the dovetail joint which appears frequently in the show. The emotional tone of the tiny sketchbooks in their vintage cases, give insight into the musings of the artist’s mind and pull you in. Overall, this is a beautifully installed exhibition with some magical moments.

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Paul Bowen, 2023 , Case of sketchbooks

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Paul Bowen, 2023, Installation view, “Paul Bowen: Drift”,” Shoe’s a Love Story”, “As Is” and “Paint” are running concurrently

Feb 18-May 21, 2023 ArtYard 13 Front St, Frenchtown, NJ 08825

About the writer: is an artist living and working in NY and Italy. Raised in NJ, schooled in Philadelphia she moved to NY in the 80s, and first showed at The Drawing Center. Her work is primarily drawing based and influenced by Italian art and artisan sources. She taught for many years, including at Parsons School of Design where she helped formulate the Drawing program. After moving to Brooklyn from the East Village, she opened Schema Projects which specialized in works of art on paper. She has recently returned to the east coast after living in St Louis for 10 years.