Bill McDowell: Ashes in the Night Sky
October 12 - November 12, 2011
Ashes in the Night Sky is Bill McDowell’s artistic journey -- born of loss and fueled by his urge to react creatively to the effect of his father’s death.
Ashes, refers to cremated ashes. As McDowell tentatively began working, he felt the emotional weigh of his undertaking but became absorbed by how his father’s ashes, when scattered on a flatbed scanner, resembled starry skies.
Curious to know more about astronomy, he collected numerous books and pictures on the subject. He was struck by the notion that each one was “beautiful in their quirky otherness: they looked like ashes! Or, rather, my father’s ashes looked like them,” he says. Photographs of nebulae and star clusters also resonated with him. He decided his photographs should aim to recall both ash and sky.
He often worked with an astronomical photograph by his side; replicating the composition by using his fingers and various sieves and screens to sift and drop the ashes onto the scanner glass. The denser the accumulation of ashes, the brighter the image. Fine, dust-like particles often appeared as distant stars or gaseous clouds against the background’s inky blackness. He didn’t try to copy the astronomical photographs too faithfully and became more interested in the chance-determined relationships that developed.
He developed a kinship with astronomers and observed similarities between their work and the work of photographers. Both share a recent history of working with optics, often work in the dark, and continually make choices about what to include and reject from the fields of vision offered by their optical devices. Both work with light and with the past. Often, both view the subject indirectly on a computer monitor rather than directly through a lens.
Bill McDowell is an associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Vermont and chaired the department from 2006 – 2011. He is the recipient of the Artist Fellowship in Photography from the New York foundation on the Arts (NYFA), Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship and the Texas Photography Society Grant. His work is part of the collections of: the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Deichtorhallen Museum, St. Lawrence University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Wellesley College and the University of Vermont.
A reception for the artist will be held Wednesday, October 12, 4:30 – 6 p.m.
Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., and closed during semester breaks and holidays.
All art images and content are the property of Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA. Any reproduction or distribution of this material without the expressed, written consent of the Martin Art Gallery is prohibited and a violation of federal law. All rights reserved.