Artist Aaron Fowler’s St. Louis Show Is Making Dreams Come True
Aaron Fowler’s larger-than-life assemblages have been displayed at the Saatchi Gallery, the Hammer Museum and the New Museum. He’s had solo shows at the Columbus College of Art and Design and the Seattle Art Museum.
This week, he finally debuts his first solo exhibition in his hometown. N2EXISTENCE: GENESIS opens March 6. Fowler’s largest production to date, it follows a yearlong residence at the Luminary.
On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Fowler explained that the show builds off a storefront on Cherokee Street, where he helped his friends share “their wildest visions.” Longtime friend Traci Petty launched a lingerie line and also worked to clothe the needy in tribute to her late mother. Fowler’s cousin Errol Isom created a “trap church” to honor the artist Gucci Mane. Now those visions, and others, form the underpinning of the work Fowler will exhibit at the Luminary.
Fowler said he was inspired by the residency he was given when he was younger, which first allowed him to pursue art full time. By giving his friends and family a chance to make their dreams come true, he’s created an alternate St. Louis. “It brings my world into their world, and we create our own world, a new world,” he said.
The exhibit at the Luminary will function almost as a town, bringing the various storefront concepts together under one roof. Fowler explained, “And then it’s a town with a new reality: with people doing their passions the way they want to do their passions.”
Fowler grew up in St. Louis in the Carr Square neighborhood just north of downtown. The son of a single mother, he drew cartoon characters wherever he could and soon enrolled in art classes.
A pivotal moment came when his 5-year-old cousin was killed in a car crash.
“That was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me, to this day,” he said.
In drawing class that week, he had an assignment to draw himself — and found himself instead drawing his late cousin. “I just remember what that feeling was. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think about the good times, it made me think about the bad times,” he said. “But that drawing experience basically healed me, in a way.”
His teacher recognized the power in his drawing and pushed him to keep making art, which he did. Eventually, after starting at St. Louis Community College’s Florissant Valley campus, Fowler graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before earning an MFA from Yale University School of Art.
“It was definitely an experience,” he said of going from Carr Square to Yale. “I didn’t know you could go to the Ivy League for school for art. I kind of was making art, and it kind of took me where it was taking me.”
Fowler said it’s been a good thing to be back in St. Louis for his year’s residency at the Luminary during the pandemic. “The best part about being back in St. Louis is, it brought me back to my family and friends and grounded me in a beautiful way,” he said. “It gave me time to slow down and just sit still and reflect on how blessed I really am.
“And also just remind me what it’s like to be home, and remind me of what St. Louis is. It’s so different from places like LA and New York and these other places outside of this. It’s more slower and has a different set of problems. It’s more black and white. It kind of reminds me of what this place is, the good, the bad and the ugly of it. It reminds me of how great my friends and my family is, and how much love and support I've got, but it also reminds me of the struggles here, the different mindset, too. That’s been really humbling.”
What: N2EXISTENCE GENESIS
When: March 6 through May 1
Where: The Luminary, 2701 Cherokee St., St. Louis, MO 63118
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.