Sandoval Signpost
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  Featured Artist

Signpost Featured Artist BC Nowlin

Artist B. C. Nowlin in his studio
Photo credit:—Oli Robbins

Victory, painting, by B. C. Nowlin

Little Black Peak, painting, by B. C. Nowlin

Signpost featured artist

Painted visions: the art of B. C. Nowlin

~Oli Robbins

New Mexico has attracted artists for hundreds of years. The sprawling brown landscape, the speckled and sparse greenery, the sublime sunsets, the multi-colored mountains and expansive, clear blue skies—all of this provides ample subject matter for the traditional landscape painter. Native New Mexican painter B.C. Nowlin has been called a landscape painter, but traditional he is not. Despite growing up alongside all of this majesty, B.C. does not paint his surroundings. Sunsets can rarely be found on his large-scale canvases, which have never featured the Sandia Mountains. B.C. maintains a safe distance from the “damning specificity” of historical landscape painting, preferring instead to give pictorial form to his own imagined scenes.

B.C. began painting as a child, and with the exception of one high school art class (which he was kicked out of), he is entirely self-taught. As a child, he was so consumed with painting that he cared little about school. “I was flunking classes,” says B.C. “I wasn’t listening because I was drawing. When I was doing a castle, for example, that was all that mattered.” B.C. remembers being instructed to observe and depict a particular still life scene. “I would put angels around the fruit bowl, and I could always visualize it,” says B.C., whose daydreaming would take him on long bike rides miles away from home. “I couldn’t think straight if a painting was going well,” says the artist. He admits that art was both a passion and an escape from his “rigid, punitive” upbringing.

Despite B.C.’s obvious talent, his parents showed “no discernible interest” in his creativity, mentioning his painting only when the paint fumes became bothersome. Still, B.C. became a confident young painter. When only a teenager, he’d nail his paintings to fences in Old Town and sell each one for $40 to impressed buyers.

Before his removal from art class—which was prompted by B.C. (then Bruce) painting an image of a school bus burning on a mesa—he entered one of his school paintings in a competition, later discovering that it had been purchased by a museum in Sasebo, Japan. School just wasn’t a good fit for B.C., whose gifted IQ and “massive dyslexia” left him bored and unable to focus. His parents sent him to seminary following high school, but he completed only one year. Says B.C., “I kind of liked it. It was fun. But they told me not to come back, that I wasn’t ministry bound. I’d find books and just paint away rather than do my homework.” He later enlisted in the Marine Corps, driving school busses and painting at night. It wasn’t long before B.C. became a household name within contemporary art circles. In the early 80s, he began showing internationally, nearly selling out in shows that introduced the “new Southwest” to Europe.

Says B.C.: “I just wanted to create images. Ones that were based on a real tangible kind of Southwest or a landscape of some sort.” And even though Native American figures and Southwestern-like environments figure prominently in B.C.’s oeuvre, they are not based in reality. “I do this imaginary culturally-ambiguous thing, but see, it’s my tribe and it’s my natives that sort of grew out of my imagination over time.”

Forever pulling from his imagination, B.C. strives to maintain creative purity in his paintings. “I’ve never sat down, ever, and looked. I never sketch, never use source materials.” Since B.C.’s paintings are not informed by preparatory drawings, paintings or photographs, the artist finds himself writing notes often—sometimes on the canvas itself. In his studio, you’ll find enormous, almost-empty canvases with a few energetic stripes of color and words like “keep it light, graceful, quirky,” or, “dark first, then light.” Other unfinished canvases bare abstract color and line harmonies. His works-in-progress could be displayed in some of the country's best-respected contemporary abstract galleries, but by building up the compositions, he achieves mastery. His abstract bases become complete figures, dreamt up in the process. Says B.C., “I’m the artist who doesn’t know what’s going on in these paintings.” He rolls with the punches, or brush strokes as it may be, and develops the story and its players as they reveal themselves to him.

B.C. often revisits his favorite painted places, which have become motifs within his body of work. Imagined motels, like the “Suzy Q,” make frequent appearances, as do horse-riding Native-American figures. While the figures are purely invented, B.C. has come to know them well over the years.

B.C. is currently authoring a non-fiction novel. Like his paintings, the novel is, quite literally, handmade. B.C. writes every word longhand, eventually reading those words, pages, and chapters out loud to an assistant who transcribes the text. The book is written in the present tense and draws on B.C.’s own experiences. Blood Palette, to be published in 2018, touches on the path of the artist and the NM art wave of the ‘Seventies and Eighties.

The Manitou Gallery in Santa Fe will be showing B.C.’s work during its Annual Holiday Small Works Show, opening November 24. Weems Gallery in Albuquerque will also exhibit B.C.’s work from November through December, and the Desert Mountain Gallery in Scottsdale will present it in February, 2018. His work is on display at the Manitou Gallery, at the Dick Idol Gallery in Whitefish, MT, and at Gallery 166 in Vail, CO. B.C. has shown extensively nationally and internationally and is featured in several publications on contemporary art. The public is welcome to follow B.C.’s Facebook page (bcnowlinstudio) and learn more about the artist at

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