It was a warm spring evening when, at the Morris & Whiteside Gallery, set in the leafy green Sea Pines forest, Joe Bowler and Trailer McQuilkin, gathered with friends who had come for a first look at the newly installed exhibit, "Joe Bowler: Recent Work," and a complementing selection of wildflower sculpture by McQuilkin.
The exhibit will remain in place through mid-June.
Bowler, now 85, was surrounded by much of his recent work and holding court in the main gallery. More than 50 pieces filled the galleries' walls, and there were groupings that contained his well-known figure studies and nudes, his memorable children at water's edge or in the garden, his figurative pieces with a narrative focus, and, most especially, representative pieces of his portraiture.
Bowler, perhaps the most famous and acknowledged painter on Hilton Head Island from its early days, started out in New York City. Many know of his success as an illustrator for such important and popular magazines as "Time," "McCall's" and "Saturday Evening Post." He was awarded Artist of the Year by the Artists' Guild of New York in 1967 and was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1992.
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He arrived with his work on Hilton head in 1972, and the impact of his presence and new direction in painting, as a fine art, was felt almost immediately by the island community. Not only because of his astounding work, but because of his leadership in building an artist community right here on the island. He helped to form the famous Red Piano Art Gallery Round Table, which brought together other artist friends. Names such as Walter Greer, Joe DeMers, George Plante, Ray Ellis and Ralph Ballentine were all artistically in place and connected with the island community. What enormous artistic impact.
It was Joe Bowler and several of the 1970s artists of the Roundtable who introduced a very young McQuilkin to Hilton Head. Actually, Bowler introduced McQuilkin to Morris & Whiteside Galleries.
You can look forward to Bowler's lush "Azalea Time," but do not miss the smaller, but brilliant "Easter Sunday," or one of those rare delights, "Shy."
"It's a kind of Trompe l'oeil," said McQuilkin with a laugh as he spoke of his stunning endangered wildflower sculptures.
McQuilkin's scultpures are dimensional and photographically realistic -- to the point that they mislead or deceive the eye. And while I recognize I was not looking at the real thing, I was impressed by McQuilkin's utterly engrossing outcomes.
Speaking of realistic, McQuilkin has actually seen an errant hummingbird dive at a couple of his sculptures, in the hopes of finding sweet refreshment. Can you imagine?
McQuilkin's work is deft and deliberate. They stopped me in my tracks as soon as I became aware that these endangered wildflower sculptures were executed in copper, painted and formatted.
"Cherokee Rose -- (Rosa Laevigata)" took my breath away. If you read it like a painting and let your view of the piece travel in all directions, you will note the entire life cycle of the Cherokee Rose depicted-- bud, flower, seed and berry. Note the flower parts: pistil, stamen, anther, filament, petal, calyx or the leaves and leaf shapes or the roots and root stock. Dropped petals and leaves on the forest floor join pine needles in the setting -- they are copper, too.
McQuilkin is not a botanist, but his awareness of scientific issues of wildflowers is impressive. His work is exhibited in a number of important museum and botanical garden collections.
Ocean springs, Miss., is and has been his home for McQuilkin for all of these years, and though he works in his studio almost daily, his work schedule and focus is based on the seasons, winter dormancy and the wildflowers.