Man descending staircase, Getty

Friday, September 6, 2013

Frank Bowers

I picked up a couple of interesting consignments yesterday. A client of mine found these two Frank Bowers murals at a garage sale in Long Beach years ago, unfortunately leaving one canvas behind. Painted in 1951, they purportedly once hung in a long deceased Long Beach bar called the Ark. Now they are almost ready to move on. Need a cleaning.

The top mural portrays a bunch of randy libertines hooking up for a journey on the ark, the one below might be the Dionysian revelry to be found in the paradise on board. Each one is about 4 x 5'.

Who was Frank Bowers? A very good question. Here is his listing in Eden Hughes book of California artists:

Frank Howard Bowers - Born in California on Nov. 20, 1905. By the 1930s Bowers had settled in Los Angeles. During the Depression he painted murals for the Federal Art Project in the Fruit Growers Exchange (Orange Harvest) and the Ruth Home School in El Monte. He died in Long Beach, CA on Dec. 11, 1964.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Painting & Sculpture in Los Angeles, 1900-45; Death record.

I started hunting around and soon found a treasure trove on Bowers, at an online paean to polynesian pop called Tiki Room. At the Tiki Room website, Bowers is evidently something of a demigod. It turns out that somewhere along the way he developed a taste for the grog and became something of a specialist at painting murals in dive bars to pay off his bar tab. His paintings are the canvas equivalent of tattoo flash art, quite stylized in a manly sort of way. And who in the hell doesn't love devil girls?

Now I used to be a sign painter and unfortunately often got severe headaches from the chemicals and solvents. The only thing that could chelate the old painter's blood  from the preferred Ronin Ronan and One Shot brand lead paint happened to be alcohol. That is why so many old painters were rummies, at least why I think it is so, anyway.

Here is a Bowers watercolor I found for sale today on ebay.

There are a plethora of bar murals that Bowers, often assisted by fourth wife Vicki, painted at the Tiki Room site, really worth scrolling through their many pages. In fact it is a really cool website.

Bowers evidently painted saloons from Vegas to Ensenada and all points in between, many showing tropical temptresses showing off their wares to hulking alpha sailors and buccaneers.

Somebody had to specialize in painting bar walls and Frank did it with both gusto and skillful craft.

Bowers portrait - ebay

Here is a link to the Hard Hat Lounge in Las Vegas, proud owners of a Bowers mural.

Bowers illustrated matchbooks and menus, "how to" books and ceramics. Here are a bunch of cool photos that I purloined from the tiki room site and elsewhere, much obliged, pardon the quality of the shots. Not necessarily great art, but that is in the eye of the beholder after all and you can see how these babies would appeal to the besotted.

Foc'sle - Wilmington

Buccaneer Bar - Sierra Madre

Embers, Whittier

Hard Hat Lounge - Las Vegas

Private collection - Indiana

"City Activities" - WPA mural - South Gate City Hall

Sunkist Mural

Restaurant, Virginia

Sierra Madre VFW

Here is a half mural, all that is left from a gambling scene Bowers did for the Sourdough bar in Ketchikan, Alaska. There must be a ton of his work extant, hanging around waiting to be discovered.


Bohemia Cocktail Lounge

sold - Clark Cierlak auction
Sultana - First Dibs

Melody Colbert's painting

I found the following blurb at answerbag, written by a daughter, maybe explaining some of Frank's problems.

Vicky Bowers was the fourth wife of Frank Howard Bowers, a California local artist of the 30;s, 40's and 50's, with his last works being completed in 1964 in Serra Madre, California. Frank had three children, Jackson Bowers who drummed with Gene Krupa and disappeared somewhere in Florida around 1947 or 1948. His second child was Tommy Bowers a well known builder in the Belmont Shores area of So.Calif. His third wife was my mother Kathryn King Bowers, a writer and executive secretary to Henry Blanke at Warner Bros. Studios in 1944. Frank was a [story board man] on several motion pictures during the 40's . Of that marriage one child was born, Sydney Louise Bowers, [Female]. Frank went on to marry Vicky with whom he completed several large murals all over Calif as well as Mexico. Frank had a terrible accident in Mexico while painting a bull fight, the stands came down on him and he was never quite the same, but still painted just as well, but could not climb scaffolding so very few murals were done after that time. Frank Bowers died in 1964 in Los Angeles, Ca. , he had a short bout of Cancer that was to give him four short months, and was buried in Serra Madre, Ca. I still have a few pieces of his work, look at it every day. S.M.

Here is a comment a girl named Melody wrote on the website that fills in a few more dots on the artist:

Hi I was researching Frank Bowers and came across this discussion. I grew up under a Frank Bowers painting signed by Frank and dated '61 - it was hung over our mantle in Sierra Madre, where Frank and Vicki lived in the early sixties. My father was a carpenter, and the story is that Frank gave him the painting as payment for work my dad did for him. Vicki and Frank lived (and painted) in a store-front in downtown Sierra Madre. I recall mom talking about the fact that both Vicki and Frank had a fondness for the drink, and lived pretty poorly -- no stove or refrigerator, just a toilet and sink! I inherited the painting from my mother and it includes many of the Chinese figures shown in similar paintings here, although the female figure is fully clothed (no doubt because he knew our family consisted of five children). How can I post a picture of the painting here? I don't see any "attachment" button. I am also writing because I spent a lot of time at the VFW post (Veterans of Foreign Wars) bar in Sierra Madre (I was a kid, so they served me Shirley Temples). It was called "The Vets" by locals. I recall there were murals by Frank both upstairs in the bar, and downstairs in the meeting hall (where I had my wedding reception 25 years ago!) Then, the post sold the building, so I have no idea where the murals went (they may have been painted on the walls,perhaps still standing?) I moved away years ago, and most of dad's contemporaries have died, so I have no idea how to track this down.-Melody 
p.s. My dad BUILT the bar at the Buccaneer when he helped in its remodel many years ago.

You want to call it kitsch, pulp or pop, feel free. One man's kitsch is another man's chicken dinner. I'll take lowbrow over some slick New York hipster artist of the month any day. I think that this stuff is cool and it is a shame that Bowers never made more of a mark on the jetstream for his iconoclastic, testosterone driven style.

I dig painters like this. Come check the paintings out before they get cleaned. If you have any information on the artist to share, please do! I want to thank the Tiki Room for the wonderful job they have done researching and celebrating these wonderful artists.

First postscript: Got on ancestry.com - Frank married Vicki Vergez in 1950 in Orange. He was born in Alameda. There is an early 1935 photo of him sculpting but it is deemed private.  I will continue to hunt...


Sanoguy said...

I like these.... Rich, lush, vibrant!

Anonymous said...

S. Clay Wilson meets Michelangelo.

NYSTAN said...

great stuff!

Anonymous said...

I love his art it's like n c Wyeth gone wild. I'd rock one of his paintings on my wall

Blue Heron said...

John at Tiki Central says that the matchbooks can not be positively attributed to him at this time.

grumpy said...

damn i must have been asleep when you posted this earlier...Frank rocks, for sure...love it when an overlooked artist finally gets his/her due...

Unknown said...

I am related to Frank Howard Bowers and I would love more information on him if anybody has anything please email me at gotitRhonda@gmail.com