“I was experimenting with a new painting style and I liked it and it was fast and a little bit more urgent and I thought I would just go with that,” says artist Valerie Fowler about her new body of work, Habitats and Pathways. The collection is based on the natural world Fowler sees on her regular hikes and bike rides around the city.
Fowler began the paintings that would come to comprise Habitats and Pathways last September, just as she was completing her previous exhibit. She continued the project this year, working on new paintings during the COVID-19 lockdown. “I continued to go on my bike rides… and my hikes,” Fowler says. “That pathway continued on through the pandemic, and really solidified why it was important for me to just do this work. It was a way for me to keep sane during the lockdown and I just painted faster than I’d ever painted, and with more… confidence, I think.”
During the lockdown, Fowler says she found herself painting faster and looser than she had in years past. “Part of it is aging, and I have so much to say and so much going on in my head and so much I see that I want to share,” she says. “But I do think that the pandemic created urgency in me, and focus. Because [I had] so many less distractions. I was not going out. I garden and I ride my bike and I go on hikes and I paint. You know, that’s about it.”
After several months, Fowler found herself with enough new works to create a full show. The paintings are inspired by places she’s seen for years, Fowler says. “[These are] places I’ve passed on my bike ride for twenty-five years, probably. You know, I’ve been taking the bike ride around Lady Bird Lake for at least that long, and I’ve seen all the changes along the way. And I have a story about so many sections of that ride, and a lot of inspiration.”
She says she also drew inspiration from the unique quality of the sky in the early days of lockdown. “Do you remember how gloomy it was at the beginning?” she asks. “The sun wasn’t coming out and it just felt like an extra kind of burden on all of us that the sky was low and so I started using yellow in the skies a lot for that kind of eerie quality.”
The exhibit can be viewed at Camiba Art Gallery, if one follows proper social distancing guidelines. “It’s by appointment only,” Fowler says. “You have to wear a mask. But it’s also online.” Those looking to enjoy and artist talk by Fowler will also find that online – she’s pre-recorded some discussions about the work and those talks are available to stream on the gallery’s website. Camiba is also making a map available (online and in the gallery) that will guide viewers to the spaces in town that inspired Fowler’s works.
She says she’s excited for people to compare her inspiration with the finished paintings. “They will see the path I travelled. They’ll see the kernel of the idea, I think. They won’t recognize it unless they have the jpeg. I don’t know, they might. But yeah, I take a lot of liberty with what I see,” she says. “No one would know unless I tell them, and now a lot of people will know. Or more people will know, and that’s kind of thrilling to me.”