Is there anything more honest—or vulnerable—than a naked human being? Houston-based figurative artist Haley Bowen doesn’t think so. She believes that the human form reveals the beauty and truth that lies within all of us, even when we fail to see it ourselves.
With her art, Bowen strives to empower others through nude portraiture. She views her creations as platforms for visual storytelling, lyrical line work, color, and intimacy. The completed portraits are meant to reveal the relationship between a subject’s body and the voice within.
Bowen has hosted hundreds of drawing sessions for people of all body types, ages, and identities—a commitment that led to an interesting offer in the early months of 2020. Just before COVID-19 arrived, Lululemon, the highly regarded line of technical athletic apparel, approached Bowen about painting live models wearing Lululemon sportswear at the grand opening of their store in West Houston’s CityCentre.
“They told me the theme would celebrate diversity and inclusion. As a fierce LGBTQ ally, I immediately felt connected to the objective, but it was perplexing,” Bowen remembers with a laugh. “As a figurative artist, I normally paint nudes—people without clothing!” After she realized that the body-sensitive nature of Lululemon sportswear reveals the human form, Bowen accepted the offer.
Then, out of nowhere, came COVID, forcing Lululemon to cancel its grand-opening events. “Instead of the live opening, we decided to host a digital panel. We called it Lines that Connect Us,” Bowen says. “I am glad I did. It turns out it was a good fit after all.”
Lululemon in the Heights is showcasing Bowen’s drawings in their Lines that Connect Us exhibit, now through June 2021. Nine Houston models from the LGBTQ, BIPOC, differently abled, and other communities were asked to share stories about their identities, their lives, and how society views them. “The result was a transformative weekend of portrait drawing, storytelling, vulnerability, learning, and peaceful conversation. It was so moving, and so honest. It changed me,” Bowen notes.
That experience is best illustrated by a few of Bowen’s portraits that follow, along with her memories from the Lululemon portrait sessions.
Take a look at some pieces from Haley Bowen’s collaboration with Lululemon below:
Angelina DM Trailz
“I met Angelina on this project, and I am so glad I did. She is a member of the LGBTQ community, a drag queen, and a violinist!” Bowen states with joy. “Angelina was full of life and energy; she was spice and fire, bold, and unapologetically authentic. She talked about her community’s fight for equality and her desire to make a difference. Angelina’s portrait was powerful, fierce, and saturated with bright color.”
“Wes is a local artist and a member of many wonderful groups, including ‘The Other Abled’ and Houston’s LGBTQ community. He is a powerful voice for all of his communities, and his art speaks of his life experiences within the whole.” Bowen recalls. “Wes is working toward his MFA while opening the eyes of the world through his art. His portrait includes the colors he often applies, while lines move through him and his soul, not only connecting Wes to his identity, but through it.”
Leah Jorgensen and Liz Davidson
“Leah and Liz are also members of the LGBTQ community. They were a joy to get to know,” Bowen says. “They told the story of the fight for their relationship and equal rights—a story that moved me deeply. Leah and Liz shared an energy. Their adoration of each other was vividly evident, powerful, and bright, and captured through connecting line work.”
What: Lines that Connect Us
When: Through June 21
Where: Lululemon in the Heights, 713 Heights Blvd.
This article appears in the April 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.