“Primitive Bird Optical Altar”
Mixed media collage of oil and sail cloth on carved wood base
87 x 53 inches
1989–2018
$18,000
“Primitive Bird Optical Altar” (detail)
Mixed media collage of oil and sail cloth on carved wood base
87 x 53 inches
1989–2018
$18,000
“Primitive Bird Optical Altar” (detail)
Mixed media collage of oil and sail cloth on carved wood base
87 x 53 inches
1989–2018
$18,000
“Blue sails”
Mixed media collage of oil and sail cloth on carved wood base
40 x 30 inches
2017
$4,000
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Bio Synopsis

Reid Stowe is forever separate and apart from every artist in history — in fact, every human. Circumnavigating the globe from 2007 to 2010, he left the touch of solid earth for a record 1,152 days without seeing another human, without touching shore, without resupply of food or water, and without fuel. Throughout his voyage he created art in an oceanic environment that unpredictably changed from the spiritually sublime to harrowing near-death. He is a shaman — a psychonaut — whose art-making process has required summoning both physical and psychic energies to an almost super-human degree. 

Upon Stowe’s return, the media never saw the abstract painting-collages hidden below decks. Instead, he was ensconced in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  Back in his studio on land, he continued to embed sail fragments, ropes, and many other materials in his large multi-media works. Donald Kuspit calls Stowe “a natural-born mystic” whose paintings “overlap with so many modern concepts in painting.” In short, Stowe’s unconscious-spiritual-psychological life depends upon, and is inseparable from, his life on the ocean. The resulting paintings are an explosion of visual effects — and an invitation to view fragments from an unconscious realm into which few artists have ventured. It was not until 2018 that he decided to reveal his art.

Stowe’s experiences are the stuff movies are made of. He has literally voyaged “across the frontiers of death into the in-between realm.” As a teenager he sailed a 19-foot plywood sloop across the South Pacific. Then he built a small catamaran and sailed across the Atlantic and back. Sailing up the Amazon, he was captured and nearly killed by pirates. In the Caribbean he became one of the biggest pot-smugglers in American history. His friend Jimmy Buffet wrote lyrics with him in mind. His friend Basquiat painted his portrait. In preparation for his record voyage, he built a 70-foot schooner and made a test sail to Antarctica — where he painted 20-foot-tall fierce graffiti faces on a group of abandoned old whale oil tanks as his protest against man’s brutal intrusion on this remote part of the earth. In 2009, during his record voyage, he traced the path of his ship to form world’s largest heart (recorded on GPS trackers) — between Namibia and Brazil. In both duration and size, it set a record for Performance Art — measuring 2,600 linear miles in circumference and spanning 1,200 miles across. As he rounded the notoriously deadly Cape Horn an enormous rogue wave capsized his ship in freezing water, but he miraculously survived. These painting-collages are testament to the uniquely dynamic vision of one who is sailor, shaman, and artist. 

Artist’s Statement

After asking Stowe about his influences, he replied:  “I was curious if you would ask about all my influences. There is a definite Primitive influence in my work from the very beginning in my reason and techniques for contacting the spirits, as well as in the forms I use, the rough quality of the work and the way I have treated my work. You saw me walk on it and I have abandoned it in ritual and as I worked to survive going forward.

I made my first Cubist paintings at thirteen, then at nineteen as I painted the porpoises swimming above me in the sunlight and simultaneously looking down at the seabirds flying below me. More recently during the voyage I dissected Cubism. That influence never left me the way I break up the planes on my paintings. Stuart Davis and the American cubists influenced my work, including the early work of Ad Reinhart. More people have called my work Surrealist the way I create these deep-depth landscape paintings. I often put in a far blue horizon with the beach scene, so dominant in Dali’s work. Andre Mason reinforced my use of sand and aggregates while Antoine Tapies and Kieffer gave me more freedom to make larger areas of my work earth-filled. Arte Povera gave me more freedom to paint or construct on anything and leave it rough. Of course, I was influenced by Tantric and Buddhist art. It has to do with aiding meditation and the path to enlightenment, but the graphic elements are in even my most recent work. My lifetime of Yoga increased my clairvoyance and from the beginning gave me more power to know my art was helping me accomplish my wild dreams on the sea.

Further — and this is really important — I was always captain on my own magical boats that I built with my shamanistic powers. I was a not a passenger or crew being taken care of by someone else. Lots of people take three-year voyages. The difference is I never stopped or received supplies. On that voyage after Soanya was rescued by the sailor whose record for the longest voyage at sea I was breaking, I sailed 864 days alone without seeing land or another human, until I sailed into NYC. I could have gone on for another year, but I stopped for Soanya and my two-year-old son Darshen, who I had never seen.

– Peter Hastings Falk

Read the full backstory about Stowe here.