Home Groups Sessions Background Contact

Fire

Jon Bowen: Essential information

Synopsis
Dr. Jonathan Benedict Mainwaring-Bowen is a British multi-artform artist specialising in improvisation, collaboration and ritual. His best known works include the Green Gallery, a multi-artform millennium festival event, the Aquaphonics Project (in collaboration with Helen JS Edwards), an improvised ritualistic event in Oxford in 2010 and Dea Rotam Anni, a ritual event near Oxford in 2011.
Bowen has dedicated his creative life to the emancipation of individuals from the strictures of religious and political authorities.

Early Life
The youngest of two children born to an English mother and a Welsh father, Bowen grew up in an austere family heavily influenced by the Methodist Church and his father’s devout faith, in the seaside town of Torquay. He attended Wellington College (Berks) before gaining a Scholarship to read Computer Science and Natural Science at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1981 to 1984.
In 1985 Bowen enrolled with the University of Sheffield to study for a doctorate with the Artificial Intelligence Vision Research Unit within the Department of Experimental Psychology. After completing his doctorate in 1989 he moved to Oxford and began developing his career as an artist. Here he engaged in a thriving alternative scene the focus of which was the Oxford Poets’ and Writers’ Co-operative, founded by Chris Brown, Patrick Duffy and Terry Walpole.

Dreams of Philosophy

Fire

Career
Bowen’s career started with a series of public performances organised by the Oxford Poets’ and Writers’ Co-operative, followed by two group exhibitions in Oxford, one entitled “Pagan Fire” and the other “Pictures by Poets”. In 1991 he co-founded “Magic Arts” along with Alison Toft, an artist-led co-operative based at the Magic Cafe in the Oxford Asian Cultural Centre in Manzil Way. The co-operative organised a regular programme of events involving local and national artists and performers as well as the co-operative members themselves.
At the end of 1992 Bowen met the internationally renowned naturalist the Hon. Miriam Rothschild FRS (environmental adviser to Prince Charles) who offered to help support his work due to their mutual interests in the natural environment and therapeutic psychology. In 1993 he moved in to a house owned by Miriam Rothschild, which included studio space, in the village of Elsfield. The house backed on to a nature reserve also owned by Miriam Rothschild, and Bowen designed, organised and led a series of public ceremonial events there in collaboration with various artists and ritualists including SJ Cassandra Wall, Caroline Born, Sarah Lionheart, Wyon Stansfeld, Cait Sweeney and others.
In 1996 he worked with Caroline Born, Giles Goodland and Ann Born to produce a poetry/music/movement performance piece (entitled “Littoral”) which was performed at several venues and eventually showcased at the Exeter Festival of Literature.
In 1998 he was awarded a Millennium Festival grant to produce a collaborative multi-artform event entitled the “Green Gallery”. Miriam Rothschild offered the Elsfield nature reserve to the project, and gave her professional endorsement to the event.
Bowen managed the project over the two year preparation, which ultimately involved over 40 artists and performers. It was formally opened in May 2000 by Satish Kumar, and the programme of events continued for 3 months. The standing exhibition was finally dismantled in September 2000.
After the close of the project he continued to organise regular public seasonal ritualistic ceremonies in Elsfield continuing to explore universal themes such as sexuality, betrayal, death, love, resurrection, plenty, hardship and loss. After Miriam Rothschild’s death in 2004 he continued to be supported by Miriam Rothschild’s daughter Roszyka Parker until her death in 2014.
As well as organising and participating in multi-artform and ritual events Bowen continues to exhibit his paintings occasionally in more traditional galleries, most recently at the Tavistock Centre in London and Wolfson College in Oxford.
In 2010 he joined the Oxford Improvisers Orchestra and has performed with them on numerous occasions, most notably in the Aquaphonics project, which he co-led with Helen JS Edwards, and in the tripart performance of his own improvised works “Ludus Atonalis”, “Rites” and “Days in a life”.

Fire

Politics
Bowen describes himself as an ideological anarchist, more interested in educating people to take responsibility for their own actions than in the political control of society.
His anti-authority views stem from his experiences at the militaristic Wellington College. “Authority cripples creativity, creativity enables people to become their own authority” he has said.
However, he has strong political views which can be summarised as Green Socialist.
When asked why he is not more politically active in his work he responded “People only become truly engaged in politics when they make a deep spiritual connection with the issues. I aim in my creative work to forge a spiritual connection between people and their natural environment, and between people and each other. Once people have made that spiritual connection their politics will adjust accordingly. Thus my creative work can be seen as entirely politically motivated, or my politics can be seen as entirely stemming from my creative work.”

Fire

Influences and collaborators
Bowen’s interest in the arts began at school as a reaction against the strict boarding and military-focussed regime at Wellington College. Inspired by writers such as James Joyce, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe and others he started exploring flow-of-consciousness creative techniques.
At the same time he encountered the works of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock and started applying flow-of-consciousness techniques to painting as well.
Finally he encountered the popular drug-inspired music of David Allen and Gong, a little-heard of band called Gnidrolog, and progressive rock bands such as Yes, and began experimenting with flow-of-consciousness approaches to playing music.
Following a visit to the school from the Hare Krishna foundation in London he developed an interest in mysticism and meditation which has continued to the present time.
During a stay in the school sanitorium due to a rugby injury he read “Man and his symbols” by C G Jung which began his interest in psychology, human relationships and psychotherapy.
At the time Bowen became firm friends with Chris Lenox-Smith, who later became known as Seaweed, the keyboard player for the festival band Ozric Tentacles. The two wrote poetry, made images and played music together.
The school took various actions to stem a growing interest in grass-roots arts amongst its pupils, including a series of expulsions for ‘offensive’ satire. However, although Bowen was temporarily banned from the School of Music for his chaotic improvisations, he avoided serious discipline. Most pupils and teachers dismissed him as being insane, which led to a period of isolation and psychological assessment while locked in the school sanitorium in 1979. He was released after a few days with a clean bill of mental health.
It was at this time that he committed himself to a life of working to emancipate people through creativity. Acknowledging that this was not going to be a remunerative career he embarked on a study of science and computing to enable himself to earn a livelihood.
From this point on he devoted most of his spare time to developing his creative methods and educating himself in psychology, the arts and art history.
He regarded his doctorate in artificial intelligence as part of his creative studies, and used meditation and self-observation techniques to inform his ideas. To this end he spent some time with the Western Buddhist Order learning further meditation techniques.
Despite his interest in mysticism, Bowen has always insisted that an objective scientific study of the world is an essential complement to the development of subjective self-awareness. Thus he also studied the works of contemporary western philosophers, especially Bertrand Russell.
After he moved to Oxford in 1989 he spent 8 years, up to the birth of his son, working full time on a variety of arts projects, initially through the Oxford Poets’ and Writers’ Co-operative. His multi-artform interests led him into a series of collaborations with a number of contemporary artists and writers who had a major impact on the direction of his work, and many of whom remain his friends and occasional collaborators. These included:

  • Sybil Madrigal: performance poet and artist.
  • Caroline Born: ritualist, movement artist and dance therapist, former collaborator with Judy Chicago.
  • Terry Walpole: psychedelic poet.
  • Ann Born: translator, poet and publisher.
  • Giles Goodland: poet and writer.
  • Paula Claire: concrete poet.
  • Wyon Stansfeld: poet, writer, ritualist and psychotherapist.
  • Katy Squire: poet and writer.
  • Ann Barrowcliffe: poet, writer and ritualist.
  • Alex Wildwood: ritualist and psychotherapist.
  • Alison Toft: visual artist
  • Cait Sweeney: visual artist
  • Cassandra Wall: writer and textile artist.
  • Pip Hall: lettering artist.
Through meeting these individuals Bowen was introduced to the works of various artists, psychologists and philosophers including Robert Bly, Arnold Mindell, Wilhelm Reich, Roberto Assagioli, Morgan Scott Peck, Carlos Castaneda, Margaret Murray, Edward Adamson, Kurt Schwitters, Henry Throreau and Aleister Crowley.
Between 1985 and 1993 he spent increasing amounts of time in nature: hiking, camping, pot-holing, fell-walking and climbing. From 1989 to 1992 he lived on a houseboat in Oxford with the deliberate aim of becoming closer to nature. During this period his work began to focus more on human relationships, especially our relationship to the natural environment.
More recently, through his work with the Oxford Improvisers Orchestra, he has also taken inspiration from John Zorn, Phil Minton and Helen JS Edwards.

Fire

Research, publications and teaching
Bowen's doctoral research involved exploring how our brains cope with ambiguity, especially when interpreting images. His work on visual perception still informs his painting. He went on to explore how our brains are able to reach coherent conclusions when starting with ambiguous and contradictory information, using a technique called Truth Maintenance to resolve cognitive dissonance.
Latterly he has conducted qualitative research on ritual based on the work of the anthropologist Catherine Bell, over a period of 2 decades. At the end of this period he produced his paper “Ethical considerations for the use of ritual techniques in therapeutic contexts”.
This is based on his “Technical Approach to Ritual”, the first ever analysis of ritual from a psychotherapeutic perspective, which is summarised in the paper.
He occasionally lectures on subjects including dream interpretation, history of psychology, creative ritual, and ritual in psychotherapy.


Dreamcraft® is a registered trade mark and business name of Jon Bowen, 22 Banbury Lane, Kings Sutton, Northants. OX17 3RX.
Phone +44 (0) 1295 816879
All material on this website is protected by Copyright © 1990 - 2017 Jon Bowen