Oxford gallery owner Jenny Blyth takes us to an abstract seaside through the art of Day Bowman

How deeply are etched within us our childhood memories – where time stood still, the days unending, where our sources of delight and adventure were imbued with a sense of wonder, where everything felt yet to be discovered.

Day Bowman’s childhood days were spent in the Somerset town of Minehead, and it is the landscape of that unassuming beach town that forms the bedrock for her painting.

Her hometown was recorded in the Domesday Book but dates back to the Bronze Age. Strategically located on the coast, it grew from busy trading post in the 1500s to industrial town of the 1800s shipping herring, wool, cattle and coal to Bristol, Wales and Ireland. Industry fell away to larger ports, leaving a detritus of abandoned mining and industrial ‘architecture’. With a new railway line and a pier, Minehead re-emerged as a fashionable Edwardian seaside resort, and remains today a bucket-and-spade summer holiday destination.

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There is an echo to the layering in this coastal town that we see in Bowman’s work on show at Carey Blyth Gallery in Woodstock Road, Oxford. Her paintings are complex. Her skill is the alchemy of juxtaposing the different elements that command her attention, composing abstract paintings that are balanced and fluid.

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There is terrific strength and confidence in her work. Movement abounds. She balances blocks of black with trapeziums of rust, where ribbons of colour and charcoal encircle pools of light, and scribbled hearts and footprints belie the depth of darker planes and corners.

It is the ‘behind the scenes’ landscape of a ghosted industry and deserted winter beaches that fire her imagination. Bowman’s paintings are experiential – urban wastelands resonate with the echo of footsteps – running ‘tag’ through giant concrete tunnels, the plink of metal on metal, the dynamic and drama of a wasteland tableaux that characterised playgrounds for children of the sixties.

Bowman returns to the beaches of childhood in her recent paintings of Plashy Places. Wet sand glistens as the incoming and receding tides of flood and ebb erase calligraphic marks etched momentarily into surface, where the pooling of seawater and reflections play out in oil on canvas. Capturing the abandon of play, Bowman recalls W B Yeats’ Man From Faeryland, who, careworn with the fears and concerns of adulthood, observes the humble lugworm rising to the surface, singing of higher places and golden skies.

Bowman’s new and larger paintings of Holiday Destinations I, II & III combine elements of both beach and wasteland. A ribbon of sky blue colours up against rust and golden ochres, where spectrums of ghost whites and greys ignite against the drama of a black backdrop.

While her post-industrial abstractions resonate with rigour and dynamic, sculpting shape and movement across the canvas, so Day Bowman’s beach paintings of Plashy Places capture the magic and beauty of the littoral shoreline, a perpetual dance between sea and land - that tangential, kinetic point at which figuration and abstraction play out.

This show follows a great year for Bowman, who won the Anima Mundi International Painting prize at the Venice Biennale, was awarded first prize for Painting in the Bath Arts Open and picked up first prize in the Wales Contemporary contest.

  • Plashy Places is at the Carey Blyth Gallery, 8 Woodstock Road, Oxford, until April 5. jennyblythfineart.co.uk