New York artist Margaret Bowland stood in front of a mesmerized capacity audience at Alan Avery's gallery in Buckhead yesterday. The shock for those who were not familiar with her was that Bowland is white and paints as if she has crawled inside the skin of a black woman and felt the pain.
Her message to listeners was that she uses white makeup not to deny color, but rather to draw attention to the undue notice that is taken of it. She grew up in the South and saw the segregated drinking fountains -- and all the rest of what went with them -- and was conscious very early at how wrong it is to treat people that way.
However, Bowland underlines that is not just color that is the problem, it is the way women are treated. She pointed to the expectations posited with the concept of a woman becoming a wife. In particular, Bowland emphasized the sacrifices that a woman is supposed to make.
Further, she examines the burdens that have, historically, been put on children. In one of her paintings, a crown of cotton with its thorns is symbolic of those trials.
And, why she asks, should women of African descent put extensions on their hair? Pointing to her own hair that hangs down, she asked her audience why that should be considered any better. She has her model pulling out hair extensions with a very determined expression on her face.
Besides the messages in Bowland's work, there is the awesome beauty she has captured. She is a portrait artist of enormous skill. Instead of seeking to mimic modern techniques, she sought out the secrets of the masters. It wasn't easy, she said. The information wasn't readily available.
The result? Exquisite images with a rare depth of emotion. Bowland is a modern master of her craft...or should we say mistress? In our world, women still have to struggle to get their due.
It would be no surprise to find museums waking up and scrambling to collect her work. Several museums have already acquired a few treasures. Living in Atlanta, I would, personally, love to see examples of Bowland's portraits on display in the High Museum.
The Margaret Bowland exhibit at Alan Avery Art Company will be on display through Jan. 17, 2015.