My Cultural Capital
The Virtual Bookshelf of Jenny Bowers
We are all the product of our experiences, the places we've lived and the cultural experiences we've been exposed to. Every film we see, book we read or trip we take, all have an effect on the way we see the world around us. We all have cultural capital which we have banked throughout our lives, a wealth of knowledge, taste and perspective that cannot be taken away from us even when our lives undergo dramatic change. Here at Lagom we work with many different artists from diverse cultures and are fascinated by the cultural references that inform their work. This month, we spoke to Jenny Bowers about her life and work, and the things she uses for inspiration. Being an illustrator, books are important to Jenny so we've created a virtual bookcase of tomes - her top five books of all time.
A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Jenny now lives in a wooded valley in Gloucestershire. At the heart of her work is the love of simple things and her appreciation of everyday objects. "Things don't have to be extraordinary. You can find the extraordinary in the everyday by keeping your eyes open."
By following this approach, Jenny doesn't need to live in a bustling city for inspiration and has a keen eye for noticing the colours and patterns around her. Although her background is firmly rooted in illustration, she has not restricted herself to one medium. Her artwork has moved from the printed page to homewares, packaging and most famously, the iconic knife and fork tote bag produced for Waitrose. Jenny takes inspiration from the everyday and places it back seamlessly into the day to day context. Although she doesn't re create the style of Mid-century modern, she follows the spirit evident in her first choice of book. She believes there is "not a limit on what you can do. You can switch from fabric, cards and editorial - a breadth of creativity, a spirit of giving it a go."
'See the Small and Appreciate It All.'
EXTRAORDINARY OBJECTS OBSERVER
"Eames Design was bought when I worked in a proper office for a short time. I think it was a remedy in lifting me away from what I was working on, or supposed to be working on. It is a book packed with information and images documenting the Eames work in chronological order. It was the most expensive book I had ever bought and I remember buying it without hesitation one lunch break in Covent Garden. The Eames are such an inspiration to me as they turned their hand to so many visual art forms finding the joy in and being inspired by disparate aspects of life and cultures. I really enjoy that approach, the openness to influences and just keeping your eyes and mind open."
Jenny has been practising this philosophy since her countryside upbringing in the 1970s. Coming from a family of six, she watched as her very busy mother made everything; cooking family meals, sewing and hanging wallpaper. Seeing things being made from scratch excited her. Although the 1970s, with its patterned wallpaper and florid carpets, did not directly impact Jenny's style of illustration, she often returns to one of her favourite books from the era, "for the spirit of bravery and giving it a go." She has chosen the following title.
"The House Book by Terence Conran is part nostalgia and part inspiration. It is a thick book, packed rich with photos, plans and style suggestions for the home, albeit a home in 1974. I love it for its almost 450 pages of fabulous colourful pictures of daring colour combinations and glimpses into homes of this time. It is at the same time very familiar and very exotic. I particularly love its thoroughness, as no stone is left unturned, be it arranging things on shelves, adding personality to a bathroom or what you should have in your batterie de cuisine. It's a fantasy world made tangible. I had coveted this book for a long time finally picking one up for 79p in an Oxfam shop, location forgotten."
Although inspired by the natural habitat of her Gloucestershire home, Jenny's work has broad appeal and includes clients from across the globe. She has produced work for Bloomingdale's, Clinique, and 'Vogue Japan', a publication she has worked on for 6 years. She finds her work for the Japanese publication highly rewarding as she is respected for the illustrations she creates and enjoys being part of something so 'considered'. Her second book is a celebration of the simple perfection of ordinary things, of perfect form and composition - something that appears to have global appeal.
'See the Small and Appreciate It All.'
'Ekiben' is a book I picked up at a remainder book sale in the foyer of my college building in Manchester when I was on my degree course. It's a book documenting different styles of the Japanese railway station lunch box and their contents. Each one is a beautiful composition in colour, texture and form, all housed in a wonderfully considered package. They are absolute perfection and the book continues to delight. There is information about each lunch box, saying which railway station it can be bought from and why its package and contents are what they are. I remember really connecting with the book and its been with me ever since. To date, I have never drawn a Japanese lunch box".
Like many artists and designers, Jenny is a great fan of packaging. She has worked on packaging for Crate and Barrel, AKADEMIBOKHANDELN, and Waitrose. She has also designed 'Lucky' bags for San Francisco based company, Beautylish. This next book reflects a geeky excitement about one's trade, and the love of paper that comes with it.
"I have a beautiful 1959 book by Graphis which is a collection of award-winning packaging from the time. It is an industry catalogue really, with adverts for Japanese printers, German packaging manufacturers and sample paper stocks at the back. It is absolutely beautiful, with simple photos of packaged products and perfect because it is of its time. It's not a retrospective, it would have been referenced and used at the time. It's very special."
Although Jenny Bowers work is considered, she is eager to keep the spirit of the child alive. As a child, she was always busy drawing, painting and making things. Jenny would spend hours using the crayons that she kept stored in a catering size Bisto tin. She loved the excitement of the art room, the non-prescriptive art world and the simple pleasure of marking paper. Although she would never describe her work as being 'dashed off', she tries to keep her work fresh by not overthinking it. When she wants to lighten up she reaches for Bob Gill.
"I have a Bob Gill illustration book which is a really tonic to pick up. His drawings are concise, funny and thoughtful. They are confident and beautifully rendered in his scratchy effortless line. They just make me smile and serve as a reminder that you should stop before you overdo something."
At the end of this virtual bookshelf sits a radio, vital for understanding the nature of Jenny Bowers' work. This radio is symbolic of how she works. In the morning she can listen to radio 4, turning the dial to radio six in the afternoon to counter the afternoon slump. Being an illustrator she can dip into different projects and different worlds too and she describes herself as having a "Scattergun, magpie approach" to creative inspiration.
Jenny has eclectic tastes, but her work is characteristically her own. It is a product of her cultural capital, her individual eye and the patterns and colours she deposits in her memory bank.