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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Sowa Mai at the Knightsbridge Gallery

The work of artist Sowa Mai (rl Stephen Beveridge) is currently on display at the Knightsbridge Gallery. I recently talked with Sowa about his life and his work. Sowa Mai was born in Scotland and emigrated to California with his family after the death of his father when he was 10. He later hitchhiked across country to New York City, where he is now based.

Sowa has been making art ever since he was a child in Scotland. He has had no formal training, except for a brief period at a top art school but, in his words, “my mentor .... told me not to come back because it takes years to recover from art school and I was already well on my way”. In New York he worked for Artkraft Krauss, the makers of many of the neon signs that can be seen in Times Square. Sowa worked on the famous Coca-Cola sign, among others, and up until a few years ago the iconic ball that drops at New Year’s. In addition, Artkraft Krauss fabricated the work of well known artist Bruce Naumann.

During his time at Artkraft Krauss Sowa was also making things for himself and this work was seen by artist Stephen Antonakos, who urged him to start his career in art. His work has been widely exhibited in rl, at well known galleries, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has been featured in a film entitled “The Tartan Apple: The Scottish in New York City from the 17th Century to the Present”, a film by Harlan Douglas Whatley.

Sowa describes himself as a “plural artist”. By this he means that he “won’t be tied down to one medium. I work in video, sound, paint, drawing, animation and whatever else shows up and fits. (In) second life I get to use all those skills.” He originally came into Second Life in 2005, however because of all the technical difficulties at that time he did not stay, returning a few years later, in 2008. Within a week of his return he had an exhibition. He rented a gallery and put up a copy of an rl show he was setting up in New York. Second Life offered him the opportunity to play around much more easily with the placement of the paintings than is possible in rl. Although almost all the works in that show in sl were works created in rl, he did take one piece and create it in sl because “it was impossible to make in rl the way I had originally envisioned it so i guess it was hybrid from the beginning”. He says his sl work “seems to run to installations”.

I asked Sowa to describe the exhibition currently on display at the Knightsbridge Gallery. He started off by saying “Most of my paintings have been pure abstract almost denying the figure in favor of an allover composition. I feel it leaves the viewer with little to hang on to and therefore prods them out of complacency.” He continued “These (works in the Knightsbridge exhibition) however are inspired by or actual collaborations with David Ferrando whose work is more figurative and challenges me to adapt. When we work together we call ourselves wombly.” I was curious as to how the name “wombly” was chosen. Sowa’s explanation was “It sounds funny. It’s close to wobbly and there was a phrase in a book about the night the boiler burst at womblys clapboard factory.” (If anyone knows the name of this book, please drop me an im)

The works in this exhibition are paintings or collages. In some there are representations of Sowa as a child. He describes one work as “my demons pouring beer over my innocent self”. Others include the “Oor Wullie” character, a cartoon character popular in Scotland and a memory from his childhood. The reason for the Oor Wullie character’s inclusion is “I use him to represent the innocent me in my paintings”. One work that caught my eye contains the phrase “give peas a chance”. I don’t know if that is a reference to the artist’s mother or not.

It was a pleasure viewing the works of Sowa Mai at the Knightsbridge Gallery. The art is full of colour and character, providing the opportunity to explore, discover or create stories inside each painting or collage. Drop by with a friend and see what you can find.

Hibiscus Hastings


Anonymous said...

I love the work; it is very exciting and such color and movement. I feel that between the work and the excellent article I got to know this artist a bit. makes me want to know more. Thanks. WL

pongair said...

hey SOWA
when we gonna ko labor ate again?
i know a book an i aint goona tell...