By Theta Belcher, Assistant Gallery Director,
San Jose State School of Art and Design
Geoffrey Bowman was born with a keen intellect and a mind filled with curiosity about the world around him. As a consequence, Geoffrey led a richly varied life. During his lifetime he earned his living as a Navy sailor, insurance salesman, taxi cab driver, mail carrier, prison art teacher, SJSU professor, and as an artist. During that same lifetime Geoffrey seriously pursued and became intimately acquainted with the cooking and eating of good food, the calligraphy and spoken word of the Japanese language, growing tomatoes and eggplants, world history both ancient and modern, politics, bebop, opera, jazz, playing the tenor saxophone badly (Geoffrey felt that it was the only instrument that had a truly human musical voice), eastern philosophy, and above all his art, both printmaking and painting.
Geoffrey was born in San Francisco 1928. He had fond memories of his frequent visits as a child to Golden Gate Park, including the Japanese Tea Garden and the DeYoung Museum, where he developed an early interest in Asian Art.
In 1946, unhappy with high school–which included an obligatory half-day of factory work–Geoffrey quit school and joined the Navy. During this enlistment Geoffrey sailed to China, Korea, the Philippines, and Hawaii. The timing and intensity of this travel affected Geoffrey for the rest of his life.
Two years later, after being discharged from the Navy, Geoffrey earned his high school equivalency diploma. Five years later Geoffrey met and married his first wife Mill, and graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Social Science. During this time he also became intensely interested in art and printmaking and began to study art formally. By 1957 Geoffrey had earned his graduate degree in art and began to teach art in San Quentin. At this time he was also beginning to be noticed in the art community of the Bay Area.
In 1960 Geoffrey left his teaching job at San Quentin to spend more time working on his art. He also began an intensive investigation of I Ching and Asian philosophy at the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. During this time to support himself and his wife Geoffrey drove a taxi at night so that he could have his days free to work in the studio.
A pivotal moment in Geoffrey’s life occurred when in 1964 he joined the art faculty at San Jose State University and moved to San Jose. Through his stature as an artist, his concern for his students, and his high technical ability as a printer he became a valued faculty member; and was promoted to full professor status in 1973. Geoffrey taught at SJSU for twenty-nine years, specializing in lithography and intaglio printmaking techniques. Geoffrey had the ability to present complex concepts and techniques with such skill that his students achieved a consistently high level of creative expression. The effectiveness of Geoffrey‚Äôs academic assignments are well documented.
Simultaneously Geoffrey was deeply involved in his own work and had accumulated an impressive professional exhibition record. Geoffrey‚Äôs work was exhibited regionally, nationally, and internationally. Geoffrey is in several public permanent collections including the San Jose Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts San Francisco, Lannan Foundation New York, and Crown Press Berkeley.
In 1970 Geoffrey took a year sabbatical from teaching and spent a year in Japan. Indicative of his thorough and methodical attitude toward all elements in his life, Geoffrey prepared for this sabbatical with renewed extensive study of the history, philosophy, and language of that country. While there, he produced a limited edition book; each of which contained twenty hand-pulled prints. This book, titled ‚ÄòBook of Changes,‚Äô was published in co-operation with The University of Tokyo Press.
After retiring from teaching in 1994 Geoffrey turned to painting as his primary mode of expression. Although there was a media shift he continued to focus on one subject: the consistency of change. The phenomenon of change ‚Äì transience ‚Äì it was a lifelong fascination for Geoffrey. To express these abstract concepts, over the years Geoffrey invented a highly personal and attractive abstract visual language ‚Äì his own visual syntax ‚Äì replete with eccentric forms and complex surfaces and patterns, which seem to be in constant flux, shifting with varied light sources and viewing angles. This he accomplished in part with combinations of paint and an assortment of reflective materials such as metallic flake and leaves, glass beads, and light-refracting pigments.
Geoffrey became quite private in his later years and had his last one-man public exhibition in 2001 at the Fredrick Spratt Gallery in San Jose.
Geoffrey Bowman was a gentleman, a scholar, and an artist; all those who knew him will miss him.
Geoffrey C. Bowman December 29, 1928 ‚Äì October 9