Craig Cowan – Divine Proportion Photographs at Couturier Gallery

Photo copyright by Craig Cowen
Photo copyright by Craig Cowen
Photo copyright by Craig Cowen
Photo copyright by Craig Cowen



Couturier Gallery is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of nude images by the late Los Angeles based photographer Craig Cowan (1947-1993).  Divine Proportion focuses on Cowan’s distinctive approach to the male figure genre and his inclusion of the ancient rules of composition known as the Golden Section or Divine Proportion.  The selection of over 30 silver and Platimum/Palladium prints feature classical figure studies, as well as overlay and hand-drawn hybrids combining his photography with the Golden Section.

Los Angeles based Cowan was a self-taught perfectionist in the darkroom who achieved recognition for his masterful printmaking.  His gorgeously toned silver prints have an exceptional surface quality inviting one to touch.  Whether photographing desert landscapes, architectural icons, or male nudes, Cowan possessed the extraordinary ability to manipulate the print and sculpt the image using chemicals and light producing sumptuous tonal abstractions.

In an effort to distinguish himself from other photograhers who were exploring the male nude genre of the 80’s and early 90’s, Cowan developed a style distinctly his own.  His investigations led him to the use of the golden section which had been used throughout history, first in early Egyptian architecture, and later in painting and sculpture where it was used to describe the proportions of the ideal human figure, most notably in the illustrations of Leonardo da Vinci for the book Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli (published in 1509).

Craig Cowan describes his approach to the use of the golden section in the  introduction of his 1990 publication Notes On The Golden Section : My use of the golden section in photographic proportion studies is aesthetic rather than scientific. The golden section is a symbol through which I can unite several different concepts into one expressive image. My interest in the human figure in my work has always been to present it photographically so that it suggests a theoretical absolute.  I associate this with the ideas of Plato, especially as expressed in the “Symposium.” The particular and the general are fused; the figure, being a photograph, is always a specific person, and yet through lighting, tonal placement and composition it is made abstract.  The use of the golden section in the figure studies adds another level of concrete expression to this yearning for an absolute. The result is a fused image which combines a complex of distinct but interrelated ideas: Greek philosophy, classical interest in the human figure, modern photography, mathematics, a concept of balance and proportion and a human yearning for some kind of absolute.”

Cowan uses the golden section as an overlay superimposed on the figure and incorporated as part of the print itself.  The effect is to highlight the proportional relationship between sections of the body while introducing the geometrical lines as rational abstract elements contrasted with the more elusive figure.

His most ambitious and final project, the “Apollonian” images, combine the photographic nude image with the golden section hand-drawn, using graphite, on the print paper itself, surrounding the figure rather than superimposed on it.  Each image in the series of twenty five represents a different Greek myth, the nude in the photograph representing one character of the myth, the golden section the other figure(s).

Craig Cowan’s work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in public and private collections around the world, including Fototeca de Cuba, La Habana Vieja,Cuba; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House,Los Angeles,CA; andLos AngelesMuseumof Art,Los Angeles,CA.

This show runs June 9 – July 14, 2012

Craig Cowan – Divine Proportion opening reception will be Saturday, June 9 from 6-9pm.

Couturier Gallery is located at 166  N  LA  BREA  AVENUE    LOS ANGELES,  CALIFORNIA   90036   

For further information and/or press photos, please contact the gallery: or telephone 323-933-5557.

Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 – 5

By Jim McKinniss

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