Collage artist Robin Bowman is a Pisces, but she swears that has nothing to do with her subject matter: beautifully realized fish collages in fabric and ceramic tiles that she creates in her Lakewood Ranch home studio.
The collages, made from up to 20 different brightly colored fabrics layered, hand-stitched and embellished with beads, depict redfish, sea trout, sailfish, bream and many other kinds of fish. She does the research so that they are anatomically correct, she says, “but what happens after that is the intuitive magic that happens with the artist in the studio.” Her snook, for example, will have its characteristic black stripe, but is depicted in a colorful, joyful style.
The fabric collages, as well as ceramic tiles, trivets and backsplashes with the fish images imprinted on them, are sold at art shows she travels to across Florida. (The prestigious American Craft Council also recently has included Bowman as one of its national juried artists.)
Bowman started her artistic adventures after moving here from Albany, N.Y., where she’d had a 21-year career in nursing. She comes from an artistic family; her mother actively pursued textile arts such as embroidery and sewing, and her father wanted to be an architect but was sidelined when his father died young and instead went into the family lumber business.
“My first toy was a box of crayons,” she says. “I feel that [my collage business] wasn’t a late-in-life beginning. It was a beginning in early life, but I just didn’t have the opportunity. I was interested in both arts and sciences in high school, but the guidance department steered me toward nursing school.”
Even after earning a master’s degree in nursing (she minored in art), working for more than two decades in postpartum care and teaching at the college level, “I kept the hope alive,” she says.
When Bowman moved to Florida to care for her ailing mother, she found the natural environment a kick-start for her art. “In Albany, from November through March you wake up every morning to a gray sky,” she says. “I respond well to the warm weather, the blue sky; my work is definitely not moody or depressing.”
Bowman was inspired by the molas made by the Kuna Indians in Panama. They layer bright, solid-color fabrics, then cut down through the layers to reveal patterns and designs. “I opened a book about them, and thought, aha, I can do that, but I want to do it my own way with more patterns and more textures,” she says.
“My work has developed [through] the joy of taking various fabrics and putting them together,” she says. “The embellishment part has become out of control. I’m starting to incorporate recycled materials like netting from veggie bags from the grocery store, trims off old pillows and beads made of recycled magazines that African women have made.”
Bowman’s ceramic tiles came about when her sister, who was renovating her lake home up North, expressed an interest in incorporating her artwork but didn’t have much wall space. “She said, ‘It’s too bad we can’t do something on the kitchen backsplash,’” Bowman says. “Delightfully, I discovered that my original fabric collages, when photographed by a professional photographer, translate wonderfully to ceramic tile.” Now there’s a colorful bass right above her sister’s stove, and Bowman’s ceramic tiles are sold at gift shops in Bradenton and Sarasota.
“It’s amazing what happens when you take something you love and put it out there,” Bowman says. “I think about how lucky I am. How many people get the chance to have two careers in their lifetime that they absolutely love?”
To view her fabulous fish creations, visit www.robinbowmandesigns.com.