Reflections: Amy Bowles

Pony Da Look opening for Florence and the Machine at the Mod Club, Toronto, in 2009

Akimbo is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024 with a monthly series that draws on our rich archive of clients, critics, and contributors to reflect on the accomplishments of the past and look toward future possibilities. Our fourth installment features Hamilton-based artist Amy Bowles, who, on May 8, 2008, was the second person to contribute to our newly launched Hit List feature.

Amy Bowles, Fern and Fungus, 2023, glazed ceramic sculpture from The Offering at Paul Petro Contemporary Art (photo: LF Documentation)

What are some of your artistic highlights from the past twenty-five years?

It’s an interesting feeling reflecting on twenty-five years of singing, acting, and making art.

Pony Da Look on the cover of EYE magazine, July 2002

My Canadian art adventure began upon arriving in Toronto in the winter of 1999 from the UK. I was twenty-five-years old and without even a warm jacket. I remember drawing a sign that read: “English Artist Looking for a Studio, Please Call…” Little did I know that this would be a defining moment in my life. I got a call from Temple Bates, a new-to-the-city artist from the East Coast. We became studio mates, great friends, and musical collaborators. Together we birthed the all-female, art rock band Pony Da Look. Our first show was at an Instant Coffee party in a studio south of Queen West. Having never performed in front of an audience before, it felt as though we were wading into the unknown. We played three original songs in front of a crowd of friends. It was a hit!

Me in my studio at the Darling Building on Spadina

My first studio in Toronto was in the Darling Building on Spadina. It was a shared studio with a revolving door of artists such as Andrew Pommier, Nick Ostoff, and Dorian Fitzgerald. In this space I was able to experiment. I learned to become self-motivated, and worked on developing my painting and drawing skills. Having a space that’s yours where you can lose yourself in a creative daydream, and to stand back and see what you’ve created, is a blessing. We were lucky; spaces were still widely available and reasonably priced. One could a work part-time serving job and easily pay both apartment and studio rent, which is sadly no longer the case.

Vanessa Dunn, Amy Bowles, and Liz Peterson in Alex Wolfson and Bojana Stancic’s play And so, the animal looked back… at York University in 2010 (photo: Kyle Tryhorn)

I was young and open to working in different artistic fields. Performing with Pony Da Look introduced me to a younger generation of creative artists who were involved in theatre. I was initiated into their magical world through the writing and directing of Alex Wolfson and Liz Peterson. Although we worked together for a number of years, my most treasured memory is of The Drag, which was our first staged performance at InterAccess. During the play I climbed up inside a three-meter-high prop dress to sing and to play a Theremin that was suspended upside down from bolts on the ceiling! I had found a new family amongst these theatrical dreamers and doers.

My first solo painting show took place at the now defunct 64 Steps Gallery in 2003. It was here I met my friend Paul Petro. Shortly afterwards, I began to show at Paul Petro Contemporary Art and soon reunited myself with my first love: ceramic sculpture. I had previously studied ceramic design at Cardiff Institute of Art and Design in the UK.

My mother leaning out of the window, 2023 (photo: Amy Bowles)

After twenty years and many memorable shows, I’m most fond of a recent exhibition I had with Zachari Logan called The Offering. This show was produced in 2023 and was the first series of work I made since moving to Hamilton in 2020. More significantly, I worked on The Offering while making several trips to visit my mother in England who was living gracefully with cancer. My mother regularly critiqued my work via video calls, and, in this way, she’s very much a part of this latest series of ceramic sculptures. Thank you mummy for your wisdom!

How has your practice changed over that time and what is your current artistic philosophy?

My father in his workshop, 2008 (photo: Geraint Davies)

“Make large pieces of art,” my father used to tell me. “This will make people see you!” Despite this, my father traded in small, beautiful objects. He was a silversmith. I used to watch his large hands make delicate, detailed silver springs and latches on match safes and jewelry.

In my dreams I imagine large-scale paintings and gargantuan sculptures, yet I continue to make smaller works. I still try to go beyond my comfort zone, but the physical scale of my work doesn’t often reach beyond my outstretched fingers. I realise I am happy in a world of small objects and I hope that you can still see me.

Describe any upcoming works, projects, or exhibitions that you’re particularly excited about.

Interior of 486 Barton gallery space in Hamilton, 2024 (photo: Amy Bowles)

Since moving to Hamilton in 2020 I have created an art business called Mossy Wood Arts. I create and sell decorative ceramic objects and prints. At locally-organized craft shows, I have met wonderful collage artists, candle makers, quilters, and pigment grinders! I pursue this work as well as creating separately for gallery shows at Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

I am currently sharing a studio and working with a collective at 486 Barton Street in Hamilton. I am very excited about this space. We are actively curating shows and events, and encouraging others to share their knowledge of art processes, music making, divination, and other subjects in classes and seminars. I have drawn inspiration from the late and treasured Katharine Mulherin’s BUS Gallery as well as Andrew Harwood’s Zsa Zsa Gallery in Toronto. Both provided a rental space that nurtured the experimental emerging artists in an approachable gallery setting.

What is your vision for the future?

Amy Bowles, Living Vessel, 2023, glazed ceramic sculpture from The Offering at Paul Petro Contemporary Art (photo: LF Documentation)

When I reflect on my career to date, I recognize that I have benefited from many wonderful opportunities by simply being open to them. I‘m extremely lucky to have played multiple roles in my life as a musician, performer, stage and film actor, daughter, mother, and artist. Being willing to explore different artistic disciplines has lead me to rewarding friendships and creative collaborations. My vision for the future is much about living my life as I have done so far. Keep working, love my jobs, love my creative endeavors, be open to change, and be fearless to try new things.