Fowler is a mixed media artist with mixed feelings
Travis Fowler has been identified as a "mixed media artist," but resists being labelled with a certain style or art medium. He says he deliberately works to make "every body of artwork I make...radically different," to avoid becoming predictable or bored with his own work.
"I think that most artists have a voice, and create a recognizable style or product the public can identify," Fowler told the Sentinel. And he acknowledges "mixed feelings about this” — a fear of being "pigeon-holed" and an irresistible "curiosity and desire for experimenting with different materials and processes."
"When I feel my work starting to feel like a chore or being in a rut," he continues, "I make drastic changes, exploring new materials, techniques and concepts. I think that's the role of an artist — to keep the conversation between head, hands, heart and materials from becoming stagnant...constantly expanding one's creative vocabulary. Never stop learning."
Utilizing his in-home studio and "oddly functioning work spaces," Fowler does a bit of everything, from making jewelry to creating paintings, building furniture, shaping surf boards and making prints.
And he's one of the four Outer Banks “Emerging Artists” honored at the Dare County Arts Council's annual fundraising gala, the Bayou Ball, held on Oct. 27 and sponsored by TowneBank. This is the second year that the Emerging Artists program has featured four cutting-edge and rising artists in Dare County. The idea for the program grew out of the council's long-standing emphasis on fostering new relationships with younger artists across multiple disciplines.
Growing up in the Raleigh suburb of Garner, Fowler says he was "always interested in making things...My dad and I would always tinker on things and build stuff." Crediting his parents for their support, Fowler discovered that he enjoyed and excelled in art classes in middle and high school. After high school, he headed to East Carolina University to study art.
"When I went to college," he says, "I had no real interest in being there beyond making art. So it made sense to major in art." But he soon found himself making a change in direction, focusing on the metals program at the school. Receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2007, with a concentration in metal smithing, Fowler remained in Greenville for about a year, working and honing his skills as a bench-jeweler, "mostly doing repair work on cheap jewelry and occasionally designing and making jewelry."
After trying out Wilmington and hearing that "the surf here was better," he moved to the Outer Banks. He's lived in Kill Devil Hills since 2010.
Making a living here the best he could — working in restaurants in the summer and in carpentry and construction-related "odd jobs" during the off-season — he continued to pursue creative projects, expanding his repertory into jewelry, painting, furniture building and "tinkering" with metal working.
He also discovered that "working as a carpenter is great for an artist," sharpening skills and helping him develop an "eye for detail...while earning a pay check.”
Finding himself with a business opportunity, Fowler began working with local artist Josh Everett. "We are essentially sign painters," he says, specializing in boat lettering. "Basically we hand paint the names on sport fishing boats and yachts. In addition to the lettering, we also specialize in faux finishing...more specifically, faux teak wood grain."
The business is successful and in-demand and has Fowler travelling often, mostly up and down the East Coast and often back to his work hub in Wanchese. He has a hectic schedule, he says, but has been surprised once again to discover that "through this type of work, I’ve expanded my creative skill sets greatly.”
Somewhere along the way, Fowler found himself working and being recognized as more of an artist than a skilled craftsman. He joined in an avant garde collaborative art project entitled "Pinta Manta" that had its debut in June at the Dare Arts Council.
Fowler worked with Baltimore-based artists William Cashion and Elena Johnston, who contributed paintings reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's "action painter" abstract style, with metal work and other media contributed by Fowler — all done to the rhythms of Latin American and West African electronic music, including the song "Pinta Manta" by Antonio Sanches. The soundtrack is part of the overall work.
Recalling that Arts Council Executive Director Chris Sawin "kind of casually mentioned" the Emerging Artists program to him at the June reception, then followed up a few weeks later with a "formal invitation," Fowler confesses to being rather puzzled by his selection.
"I have to say, while I’m extremely honored, I’m not so sure I deserve it," he states.
Noting that "when you see a new style or body of work of mine, it means I became bored with the previous and moved on," Fowler observes that “Being an 'artist' is an instinctual process," and an artist "must pursue creative instincts without regard to what others may think, or how much the price tag should be."
Yes, he acknowledges, "We’ve got to make a living. But more importantly, we’ve got to manifest the ideas in our head into reality before we die."