Portraiture as Art and Activism

Gary Bowers is a Phoenix-based poet and portrait artist. His favorite style of poetry is acrostic, and he’s sketched as many locals as he has famous folks. When I decided to launch The Revolution (Relaunch) last summer, he asked what he could do to help, and from that open-ended and generous offer, the Frederick Douglass/Elizabeth Cady Stanton portrait was born. I doubt that anything will ever eclipse that image for me given that it will forever be linked to our inaugural issue.

As a kid, Gary loved MAD Magazine. “Their movie satires included the outstanding caricature work of Mort Drucker. He brought an inventive wit to the work, [something] that made me say ‘wish I could do that.’ Comics legend, Marie Severin, and Broadway icon, Al Hirschfeld, also showed me how the essence of a person can be captured with a few deftly placed pen-strokes.

But it was a self-portrait of Paul Cezanne, placed next to the photo he used as his source, that really lit me up. The photo did not reveal “defiant, ambitious young man,” but the painting is Cezanne’s soul on display. Thenceforth, I wanted to catch-and-release souls.”

To date, Gary has amassed 1600 blog posts. Local comic book artist, Russ Kazmierczak, as well as poets Jack Evans and Jessica Ann, have all used his portraits of them as their avatars. And poet Madeline Beckwith said that Gary’s portrait of her was better than the one a “professional” drew.

Roger Ebert liked Gary’s take on him so much that he shared it with the Blogoverse. He also created a portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson for TRR editor, Christopher Hanlon, who’s one of the foremost scholars on Emerson.

In honor of Black lives, as well as the activists that have paved the way for modern-day movements like Black Lives Matter, Gary created portraits of abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and journalist, educator, suffragist, and civil rights activist, Ida B. Wells.

It’s an honor to be able to showcase Gary’s work in TRR. And it goes to show that art can be one of the most powerful contributions in our quest for a better America.