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May we suggest

Reviews / December 9, 2010

Marcus Bowcott: Our Floating Forests

Marcus Bowcott West of the Musqueam Reserve and South of the University 2010 Courtesy the artist

North Vancouver artist Marcus Bowcott still has a pair of old hobnailed boots that he laces up to keep his footing while working on log booms. But he carries a camera and sketchbook now instead of a pike pole. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bowcott was studying the formal aspects of painting while also manning tugboats that navigate the shore of BC’s Fraser River. Trees felled up the coast, boomed and towed here, await their fate as pulp, milled lumber or direct loading into ships bound overseas. It is this landscape that is rendered with both fascination and ambivalence in Bowcott’s exhibition “Cut Blocks, Stacks and Bundles.”

A life on boats necessarily entails scanning the horizon and the horizontal is prominent in Bowcott’s paintings. West of the Musqueam Reserve and South of the University is a panoramic work that spans over 27 feet. The log booms float in great rafts and piles in the shallow water. A more modestly sized painting, Dissolve shows a few vertical pilings, gentle currents in the water and a sweep of stacked logs. They are no longer vertical trees, but horizontal raw materials awaiting transformation. One hears neither clanking sawmills nor snorting dozer boats. Bowcott confronts us with the stillness of fog. He implies this landscape may no longer be habitable.

If this tidal zone of the river is an interstitial area geographically, it also speaks of work undertaken between wilderness and finished products. These paintings describe a dilemma: the great rafts of logs kept Bowcott and many others in difficult and dangerous yet productive work. At the same time, the presence of these logs and their sharp perfume means that somewhere the misty hillsides in an inlet have been decimated. The monotony and anonymity of logs in West of the Musqueam is so broad, the consideration must extend beyond livelihood to how we might imagine renewal—or to whether renewal is even possible.

Bowcott’s time on the river surfaces in other images. Mitchell Island, between Vancouver and Richmond, is stacked with the carcasses of derelict cars, their snouts pointing outward. If the horizontal represents the demise of trees, it seems verticality indicates dead automobiles. The sculpture Book Ended features a bookshelf, its ends drooping down, while holding well-thumbed books stayed by a pair of stacked-car bookends. Model, make and associated prestige (or lack thereof) are mashed into two metallic pyramids. Consumption, destruction, knowledge and art all seem in danger of sliding overboard.