Astrid Bowlby’s new motto in life is: Let’s see.

The Maine-born artist is in the midst of a residency at the University of Southern Maine, where she received an undergraduate degree in 1994. She fills the Art Gallery at USM with enormous drawings on long rolls of paper, which she suspends from the walls, rolls out on the floor and drapes overhead.

She does not know the outcome of her installation, because it will evolve throughout the course of her residency. Her drawings — black ink on white paper — are in a constant state of evolution as she takes requests from visitors and fills her paper one drawing at a time, day after day.

She likens this process to consuming a Tootsie Pop: How many licks does it take to get to the center?

We’ll see.

“I’ll be drawing on this everyday, a little bit,” she says. “I’ll add to it all the time.”

Gallery director Carolyn Eyler has set up a fishbowl near the gallery entrance. Visitors are encouraged to write their requests on pieces of paper, and Bowlby will try to honor those requests.

Her paper rolls (she also uses rectangular sheets that hang on the walls) already include hundreds of individual drawings, and likely will include thousands by the time the installation and residency end March 6.

Appropriately, Bowlby calls her piece “Everything,” because everything is fair game. So far, she has drawn everything from farm animals to checker boards, from baby bottles to martini glasses and from dollar signs to coat hangers.

Anything and everything in between.

“I like the challenge of it. I like people asking me to draw things I haven’t drawn before. My mistakes are right there for all to see,” she said.

Bowlby discusses her project at 1 p.m. Friday in Burnham Lounge at Robie Andrews Hall on the Gorham campus (the snow date is Feb. 8), and gives a gallery talk at 3 p.m. Saturday during her opening reception, which is from 2 to 4 p.m.

In addition, Bowlby plans to be at the gallery from noon to 4 p.m. every Sunday to talk about her drawings and engage in drawing on demand.

She likes the idea of interacting with viewers, and believes the outcome of this project will depend on the creative chemistry of all participants.

“My sense and sensibilities with the viewers create something anew. Therefore, being present and having conversations with the viewer is really the point of this,” she said. “What does it mean to try to do everything? I guess that’s what we will find out.”

Bowlby was born in Bath, and has resided in Philadelphia for 17 years. She moved to Philly for graduate school at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

She fell in love and decided to stay, although she’s never really left Maine. She’s been a part of three biennials at the Portland Museum of Art, and her parents and siblings live in cities and towns across Maine. She comes home often.

Bowlby’s residency at her alma mater was scheduled for two years ago, but was postponed when she received a cancer diagnosis and underwent treatment, said gallery director Carolyn Eyler.

The fleeting nature of this project reminds us of the precious nature of life, Eyler said.

“The necessary hiatus has led Astrid to want to embrace the fullness of everything and to open and soften and observe what is going on,” she said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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