Where Function Meets Fine Art

Categories: Bowman, Eric, Figurative, Genre, and Newsletters.

Functional art, artwork that is both attractive and practical, is nothing new to the art world. Art glass vases, clay vessels, and even bronze door knockers or bookends apply. But these works don’t seem to be included in many shows. Last year, artist Eric Bowman made a splash at the Prix de West with his tetrapycht screen—and he’s doing it again at the Night of Artists at the Briscoe Museum this year. 

 Bowman, known for his stylized Western scenes, got the idea for the original screen from his love of craftsman furniture. “The idea just popped in my head one day: ‘What if I used a folding screen as a housing or a framework for my paintings?’” he says.  “And so, I started thinking, ‘What would that entail?’” 

He contacted Holton Studio Frame Makers in Berkeley, California, and shared his idea of making a four-paneled folding screen with paintings mounted in each panel. Between Bowman’s own designs and the frame maker’s expertise, they came up with a final design that would be stable.  

“Basically, [the frame maker] just kind of treated it like a regular frame that he would do with gold leaf trim on the inside of each panel cut out,” Bowman says. “And then I would do the paintings on wood panels, because you’d want something sturdy to put in a screen like that.” 

 Once Bowman knew the project would be possible, he had to decide what he wanted to paint. He wanted to do a series of paintings what would have a theme running through them, and he wanted the subjects to be Native American. 

 “I kind of followed the lead that artists were doing a hundred years ago in Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts style by putting lettering on a banner,” Bowman says. Each of the four seasons (autumn, winter, spring, and summer) contain similar letters, providing a good balance between all four paintings. 

The Four Seasons

36″ by 20″

Each painting within The Four Seasons measures 36” by 20,” and each is mounted into quarter sawn oak panels that were stained to look antique. “We found antique style hinges online that had old flathead screws instead of a Phillips type screw head,” Bowman says. “So, they kind of mimic the old-style hinges and screws, and they’re dark oiled, so the whole thing looks like an antique.” 

 The Four Seasons sold at Prix de West 2023 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “A collector of mine bought it,” he says. “There were two other people [who] put names in to buy it, too, so I was thrilled about that, because I was very nervous.” Creating the panel to house the pieces was not a small investment, and since it wasn’t a typical piece, Bowman wasn’t sure it would sell.  

At the Prix de West, the director or the Night of Artists show at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, approached Bowman, who had taken a break from that show, about participating in it again. Bowman wasn’t sure what he would submit to that show, but he agreed to be in it this year. “I was probably going back to my regular model of just doing paintings, but then I heard that song on the radio, ‘El Paso’ [by Marty Robbins],” he says. “It’s a charming song. I was humming along to it, thinking about it, and I thought that would be perfect if I could break that song down into four scenes for my next screen. 

“The song is about a cowboy who falls in love with a girl at a cantina, and then a rival cowboy comes in, they have an argument, and the first cowboy shoots the rival. And then he runs out the back door, steals a horse and rides off, over the border into New Mexico. Because he’s so in love with her he can’t stay and wait. But, when he comes back, the posse finds him, and shoots him. He ends up making it to Rosa’s cantina, where Felina works. Felina finds him, and he dies in her arms with one last kiss.” 

That idea resulted in Wicked Felina, Bowman’s second four-painting series on wood panels. He broke the song down into four distinct scenes, each the basis for a painting. Each painting is 24” by 20,” 12 inches shorter than the previous screen’s pieces to allow the scenes to be more illustrative, composed wider on the canvas with song lyrics across the top and bottom.

Wicked Felina

24″ by 20″

Bowman says he will most likely not create any more screens unless he gets the perfect commission for them. “I’ve only done two of them, and that’s probably all I’m going to, unless I get a commission to do one,” he says. “It’s a big investment up front, with no guarantee it’s going to sell.” 

Wicked Felina will be available at the 2024 Night of Artists beginning March 22. “I feel like I have a pretty good shot because the first one was a big hit at Prix de West, and this one is pretty much tailor made for a Texas audience,” Bowman says. “So, hopefully, the folks in San Antonio will jump at it.”