Richard Butler Bowdon (1957- )

Collapsible content


Born in Cape Town, Richard Butler Bowdon’s ethos has been that of a citizen of the world, and whether he is in the Sudan, Thailand, the Netherlands, or in his current home in Melbourne, Australia, his utmost dedication is to art and the art community. Fundamentally, his practice is an outcome of this open and non-hierarchical curiosity in humanity. Taking on the most formal and historical traditions of portraiture, Butler Bowdon challenges the viewer to break with these very conventions and presumptions that accompany lofty tradition by taking his observations from those living in the diaspora. His subjects are contra-historical; they are contemporary and undeniably compelling. Far from the exotic, Butler Bowdon’s paintings create magnetic and subversive narratives that invite the viewer into the world of ‘the other’, to enter a dynamic gaze that is defiant to preconceptions.

“Portraiture is perhaps the most complex and difficult of genres precisely because it appears to declare the obvious and is easily contested. It seems difficult to say something new in a field, where the task is both to challenge the photograph in its accuracy and to deliver wisdom and measured insight in an age of immediate gratification. Yet this is precisely the task that Richard Butler Bowdon made his life’s work. Situating his practice geographically, historically and culturally in Africa, has become an exercise in brinksmanship of an emphatic and empathetic onlooker and a participant, who can challenge the cannons of a deeply Eurocentric genre, while excelling in it at the same time. Butler Bowdon’s painting and collage practice present a dynamic and unpredictable oscillation of perspective, not only of Africans in Africa and diaspora but also of the way art history has engaged with Africa. With taciturn understatement, Butler Bowdon holds up a mirror up not to his subjects but to his audiences, forcing us to reckon with our own humanity at odds with the legacy of our histories.

Richard Butler Bowdon, presents the fractured mirror of contemporary African identities. His portraits of Africans living in exile in diaspora present a historical mosaic of migration from the disappointed idealists, like The Patriot to those reconciled to the way things are and have to be like The Patient One or those who like The Protagonist take life by the scruff of the neck and forge new paths for themselves and others. These personages communicate both as real people and as types that we can recognize and connect with as existing in every social grouping. Our shared humanity through these images, overwhelms the attempts at cultural and the ethnic division engendered by history. Conversely in Butler Bowdon’s collages turn the mirror squarely to the viewer. We are struck by the interplay between ritual objects, which have become the personification of Africa to the Western gaze and the reality of contemporary life and spiritual practices in Africa, as well as modes of representation, which move between photography, collage and masks, all of which speak to the history Western perception Africa from the artistic “borrowings” of Picasso to the ethnographic classification and plunder of artifacts. Whether in painting or collage, Butler Bowdon subverts the immediate reaction, with an afterthought. While the aesthetics of his works are impeccable and seductive, we are never allowed to get away with mere admiration. Each work opens a door to a conversation, about ourselves and the history of humanity, in the African context and beyond.”

- Valerie Kabov, First Floor Gallery, Harare




The Existentialist And Others, EBONY/CURATED, Cape Town, South Africa


The Mirror Complex, EBONY/CURATED, Cape Town, South Africa


Austral Africa, First Floor Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe


Richard Butler-Bowdon, Until Never Gallery, Melbourne, Australia


The Aesthetic Cell, Until Never Gallery, Melbourne, Australia


Recent Portraits, BUS Artist-Run-Space, Melbourne, Australia


Twelve Contemporary Australians, Gallery 4A, Asian Australian Artists Assoc., Sydney Australia


Huan the Dispersion, A Cathartic Fantasy in Three Parts, Ist Floor Artist and Writers Space, Melbourne, Australia


The Familiar Exotic, Talk Artists Initiative, Melbourne, Australia Function at the Mirage, Citylights 2000, Melbourne, Australia


Nexus Multicultural Gallery, Lions Art Centre, Adelaide, Australia



‘Africa Supernova’, Museum Kade, Amersfoort, Netherlands


‘Looking In’, EBONY/CURATED, Bordeaux House, Franschhoek, Cape Town
‘Reclaiming Magic’ Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London UK (coordinated by Yinka Shonibare).


Karigamombe Centre inaugural exhibition, First Floor Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe.


The New Jerusalem, Curated by Christos Tsiolkas & Zoe Ali, City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, Australia
Unearthed, Blender Studios, Off the Kerb Gallery, Melbourne, Australia


Felt-Tip Pen Show, Rearview, Melbourne, Australia
Hidden Faces of the Archibald , Smartartz Gallery, Melbourne, Australia


Revolving Doors, UPLANDS Gallery, Prahran, Australia.


The Space in-Between – The Book Project, Margaret Laurence Gallery, Victoria, Australia


Dinner Party, Ember 67, Melbourne, Australia


Southern, HOME Gallery Prague, Czech Republic,


67% Say We Were Misled, Sweden Bridge, Vienna, Austria / Dublin Artspace Dublin, EIRE.


Eat my Art, TCB Chinatown, Melbourne, Australia.



ARCO Lisboa, Portugal (with First Floor Gallery Harare)


London Art Fair ‘Dialogues Project’ curated by Miguel Amado (with First Floor Gallery Harare)
Another Antipodes/Urban Axis, PSAS, Fremantle, Australia
London Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare, London, United Kingdom


AKAA, First Floor Gallery Harare, Paris, France
Cape Town Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare, Cape Town, South Africa


Summa Contemporary Art Fair, Madrid, Spain
Joburg Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare, Johannesburg, South Africa
Cape Town Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare Cape Town, South Africa


1:54 Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare, London, United Kingdom
Joburg Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare Johannesburg, South Africa


1:54 Art Fair, First Floor Gallery Harare London, United Kingdom


Africa Supernova. 2023. Kunsthal Kade, Amersfoort. ISBN 978 9 490153 38 0

Works by Richard Butler Bowdon (1957- )

1 of 10