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Taylor University hosts exhibit of art professor's work

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OUR CURSEDEARTH:These allegorical landscape paintings, inspired by Jonathan Bouw’s trips on Gaston Pike, are part of his gallery show “Incident on Gaston Pike and Other Works” in Taylor University’s Metcalf Gallery.
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PRESERVING INDIGENOUS CULTURE:Jonathan Bouw, department co-chairandprofessor of art at Taylor University, with some of his work— a personal project from the Philippines— which is part of his gallery show “Incident on Gaston Pike and Other Works” in the Metcalf Gallery.
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CHRISTMAS HOPE AND HEALING:One of Jonathan Bouw’s illustrations for the book “You Are Somebody,” by Shirley Thacker, in the Metcalf Gallery on Tuesday.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

The work of Taylor University art professor Jonathan Bouw, including panels from book covers and illustrations, a traditional Filipino indigenous story and an apocalyptic landscape story, is on display in an exhibit titled “Incident on Gaston Pike and Other Works” in the Modelle Metcalf Visual Arts Center on campus through Dec. 7.

Born and raised with missionaries in the Philippines, Bouw lived in Malaysia, New York City and Idaho before making his home in Indiana. He has taught at Taylor for 12 years. His first paid art job was illustrating a reading primer as a high school student in the Philippines, which he says cemented his interest in art.

“When I got paid to do something that not only I loved to do, but I realized would help people, that was it for me,” Bouw said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. To make a positive contribution in other people’s lives, to do what I loved, and to be able to be rewarded for it — that was the perfect combination for me.”

Most of the work in Bouw’s current exhibit is done with acrylic on paper, but he also creates digital art and has previous experience in commercial work done on a medium called “scratchboard.”

The exhibit is a collection of four separate bodies of work, grouped together on four walls.

The titular series, “Incident on Gaston Pike,” is a spiritually-based, apocalyptic story focused on the context of the landscape. The images were inspired by Bouw’s daily commute to work from Yorktown to Taylor via Gaston Pike and focus on addressing wounds that have happened to people.

Bouw said he loves the mysterious thickets of trees found in Indiana but dislikes Indiana winters. He called the trees in his work the “stitches between heaven and earth,” which come out in March, when the ground is soft and muddy.

The panel furthest on the left shows the earth calling out to the heavens, while the furthest-right panel shows the heavens responding with the Biblical four horsemen. One panel shows the “reason for the curse,” as Bouw put it, and uses poses inspired by an Italian painting. Another depicts new beginnings in the Tree of Life. The “Incident on Gaston Pike” is the beginning of a 24-panel series Bouw has planned.

The first set of panels in the exhibit, Bouw created during a visit to the Philippines for a Fulbright Program project. It tells a traditional indigenous story about a young boy making a bamboo cannon, which Bouw did himself as a child growing up there. Bouw described the experience as dangerous, fun and loud.

Bouw lamented the evaporation of traditional and indigenous culture and stories in his childhood home as the modern world causes rapid changes in food and language. This series of art panels allowed him the chance to preserve one of those traditions.

One of the panel series on display features a selection of illustrations from a book written by a local Hoosier author. Bouw described the book’s plot, set in a Christmas environment, as focusing on a young girl who experiences unwanted advances and abuse but is able to heal from the trauma.

Another set in the exhibit displays 10 out of 12 book covers Bouw designed for a murder mystery series published in Berne. The images depict a young, dark-haired woman in various suspenseful scenes, such as hiding from a shadowy figure looming in a stable window.

In the classroom, Bouw balances out the fun, creative aspect of art with the reality of deadlines, contracts, copyright law and client management. His personal experience as a professional artist informs his teaching daily.

“What happens in my classroom is about what I do,” Bouw said. “It’s very much a practical, hands-on, nuts-and-bolts kind of thing. … The best thing I can do for my students is model what their life will be someday.”

Bouw’s work will be on display at Taylor through Dec. 7. The gallery in the Modelle Metcalf Visual Arts Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on Bouw and his work, visit jonathanbouw.com.