Editor's note: Aaron Fowler was selected by Amanda Hunt as one of ArtReview’s 2016 Future Greats. His installation, Bigger Than Me, opens in the New Museum’s storefront window on 5 May, and runs through 19 August 2018
Aaron Fowler incorporates three-dimensional objects into the elaborately built, intuitively constructed surfaces of his wild, weighty, massive assemblage-paintings, which are constructed from various pieces of furniture and crude objects sourced from his local surroundings, and which harness great power and feeling. Each work has a narrative drawn from events from his own personal history: cousins incarcerated, friends gunned down that affected the artist or his family and other friends in St. Louis, the city in which he grew up and to which he remains deeply connected. Fowler’s work is a way of processing these events and the weight of their impact – the narrative is in the materials.
Fowler often depicts himself as a pirate, or a renegade in his work; many of the figures in his paintings allude to religious iconography. BFF (2015) shows the artist and his mother at home in her kitchen. Mother – a welcoming, smiling woman in leopard-print frontier dress – is seated at a spinning wheel, modern fixings at her side (Pringles, Cape Cod chips); Fowler is the tired warrior seen entering the canvas from the right, armed with provisions for the family.
The urgency of Fowler’s connection to his family and friends is alarming in the honesty of its depictions. Where much of contemporary painting embraces abstract, digestible representation disconnected from the figure, Fowler provides an antidote. He grapples with a personal history that connects us to his experience as a black man – and a member of a black family – in America. He elegantly depicts those who have suffered the consequences of blackness in violent, tragic ways. Understanding and viewing Fowler’s work in the current moment – which lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson calls ‘the second era of the collapse of Reconstruction’ – is imperative. I won’t call the work cathartic, but I am blown away by Fowler’s ability to capture such pain and beauty so honestly.
This article was first published in the January & February 2016 issue of ArtReview.