Jon Bowen: Essential information
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.
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.
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”.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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
More recently, through his work with the Oxford Improvisers Orchestra, he has also taken inspiration from John Zorn,
Phil Minton and Helen JS Edwards.
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
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.
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