Gaza Bowen creates new art for a new time, while keeping one of the world’s oldest arts alive. Like a medieval seer making sense of a mysterious world, she has achieved celebrity status as a shoemaker and artist in part because she can see the profundity in the simplest of objects.
Gaza began her career as a sandal maker in the late 1960s progressive culture of Mendocino, CA. Later, she learned the trade of shoemaking via a period of intensive study with a master shoemaker from Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. During this time, she mastered the main methods of shoe construction, including hand sewing and stitching, pattern drafting, clicking, lasting, and finishing.
Though an artist at heart, Gaza has the grounded perspective of a teacher. This is probably the role she was born for, though her journey has taken her down several wildly adventurous paths. She goes as far as she can then turns back, finding herself in much the same place, yet learning that neither she, nor her art, is the same.
When one meets her, it's obvious how much pleasure she takes from passing her legacy on to others. She's patient, caring, socially conscious, and has a wonderfully child-like sense of humor. As Ugandan student Michael Mpayangu says, "Gaza is amazing."
In the late 1970s, Gaza's latent artistic interests began to wrap themselves into her shoes. She is innately curious about the relationship between people and their shoes and spent several years exploring these connections in a satirical and often whimsical fashion. Her work has been showcased in a number of world-famous museums including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Her shoe art has covered everything from the female dilemmas of her "Little Woman Wear" series to futuristic shoes made of such seemingly irrelevant objects as bottle caps and discarded metals.
Interestingly enough, however, precisely that which has made her famous is that which she has outgrown.
In recent years, Gaza has found that her years of social commentary with regard to shoes may be drawing to a close. She has found, ironically, that perhaps the most important thing about people and their relationships to shoes may be simply the satisfaction she imparts when a student makes his or her very own pair of shoes.
Gaza now teaches private workshops, as well as lecturing at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The rest of her time is spent haunting junkyards for interesting found objects and preparing for a unique reading-room exhibit this September at the Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles.