Michelle Bowen: Huelitic Code, Language through a Prism

An Introduction by Mary Kathryn Jablonski

Artist Michelle Bowen has assigned colors to each of the 26 letters of the alphabet in a Huelitic Code, adding to and transforming the way the viewer “reads” her images. While her paintings are interesting, striking, and intense without this added layer of meaning, the Code imposed upon them can influence and change viewers’ perception. In essence, Michelle believes that the Huelitic Code, exposes the vulnerabilities and limitations of humanity’s most significant construct, language. She says, “When viewers ‘read’ my work, they are forced to build a new relationship with language, and they are also forced to admit its vulnerabilities… an important step towards social change.”

While Bowen’s Code of colors itself is a thing of beauty, she has exhaustively explored this Huelitic Code concept in detail. The variation of approach and sheer commitment to quantity of paintings made on this theme, as well as her engagement in social justice issues elevate this project from the status of “gimmick.”

She has made paintings using this Code as a meditation to reflect on Editorials, Binary Opposites (such as freedom and bondage, birth and death), and devoted an entire series to Love and Hate. Bowen has also painted the names of Colors and full Passages and Quotes.

Check out the photograph of Michelle painting with the numbered palette on her arm. After viewing these paintings repeatedly, one surmises that the painter has learned to “speak” a new language. If you come to “hear” it, it is at times lilting, inviting, and/or peaceful. It flows and connects. At other times, it jolts the listener awake abruptly, much like the best poetry.