Art & Entertainment, Feature Story, Women's Lifestyle

Detroit Swag: Interview with Detroit Artist Judy Bowman

Detroit artist Judy Bowman has arrived, and she accomplished it in only four years! After taking a long hiatus from her art career, Mrs. Bowman decided to pursue her passion for art again. In just a matter of four years, the retired school teacher is making a name for herself as an artist.

Thanks to her big win in the 2018 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, Mrs. Bowman has been able to feature her art on bigger platforms. Bombay Sapphire’s art series gives new artists across North American an opportunity to share their art on a national platform.

For example, her art has been exhibited and commissioned at SCOPE Art Fair Miami BeachMLK Library on the International Theological CenterIntuit Museum in Chicago, and the Detroit Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

In her late teens and early 20s, Mrs. Bowman explored art. She attended Spelman for three years and studied art. But soon Mrs. Bowman had to put her art on hold because of the busyness of family life and her teaching career.

“I had to stop because I raised 10 children,” she said to me. We were standing outside of Playground Detroit for a quick interview about her latest art exhibit “Detroit Swag.”

“So I couldn’t do art,” she continued. “Plus, I was a teacher! So I went to kids. Came home to kids.”

Detroit Judy Bowman
Detroit Artist Judy Bowman

Four years ago, Mrs. Bowman decided to pursue her art. She wasn’t sure if she could do it, but after connecting with other Detroit artists, she decided to take a leap of faith.

On returning to her artwork, Mrs. Bowman said: “It felt wonderful because I did artwork before and I would sell it, you know to help get some milk and some bread.”

“But then it just became family and job. [Art] became too much and I couldn’t do it. So when I retired, I said ‘I wonder if I can still do my art?’ And I could! And it just all came back to me!”

Judy Bowman Detroit Artist
“Millenials” by Judy Bowman
Judy Bowman Jennifer Hamra Playground Detroit
Photo of me with Mrs. Bowman at her art exhibit opening reception at Playground Detroit.

With 220 reservations for the “Detroit Swag” art exhibit, the turnout for Mrs. Bowman’s opening night was great! She was very excited to see her family, friends, and fellow artists attend her reception.

Hugging family and friends, Mrs. Bowman couldn’t stop smiling. She expressed her gratitude to each guest as they came up to greet her. 

“Detroit Swag” is Mrs. Bowman’s second art exhibit. Her first one was held in November last Fall. “I used to live on Blackbottom at Lafayette and McDougal,” she said as she pointed to show me the direction of her old neighborhood.

“I never would have imagined my artwork would be on a window somewhere so it’s just mind-blowing!”

Church Ladies Judy Bowman
“Church Ladies” by Judy Bowman
The Griot Judy Bowman Detroit Art
“The Griot” by Judy Bowman

For Mrs. Bowman, this opened many doors for her. She also credits the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, the National Conference of Artists – Michigan Chapter (NCA) and her many art friends for connecting her with opportunities to share her art.

When Mrs. Bowman took up art again, she decided to connect with artists in the Livernois Avenue area. “Livernois is kind of like an art hub,” she explained to me.

“I met some artists there, and I found the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club and NCA and they embraced me and took me in. The rest is just history!”

Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club
Judy Bowman with a few members of the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club.

QUOTED: DETROIT ARTIST JUDY BOWMAN

Likening Detroit to the Harlem Renaissance, Mrs. Bowman believes Detroit is going through a renaissance right now.

“Art is everywhere. When I came up in the 50s and 60s. Art was not a viable profession. Your mama would say “you better get some job with some benefits! You better leave that art stuff alone. You got the College of Creative Studies and they’re teaching kids how to do art and how to make a living from it!”

Detroit Artist Judy Bowman
“Nightcap?” by Judy Bowman

On the meaning of “Detroit Swag”–

“It’s the rhythm of Detroit. It’s the coolness of Detroit. It’s the love of art, the music– it’s all of that. You know you can kind of almost tell a Detroit person when you see them.”

“The men in my family were always very, very dapper. Ladies men. They always had this air about them. They were always very coordinated. Now I didn’t take that gene from them. I could care less about clothes, but it stuck in my head because it’s all reflected in my art. The hats and the ties– and even my father– when he’d work at Chrysler. When he’d come home, he’d take off his Chrysler clothes and put on white shirts and stuff. You know it just represents all of that to me. That’s Detroit Swag to me.”   

“When you go to another city you can tell a person is from Detroit. It’s just something about them.”

Sheefy McFly art
“Sheefy McFly” by Judy Bowman

On how young people have inspired her

“I admire them because they’re not prescribing to ‘You better get a job!’ They’re taking their art and they’re making a living off of it. In my mind: where is your insurance? But they don’t care! [Young artists say] this is what I want to do. This is how I’m going to make a living. They have a boldness about them.”

“In my mind: where’s your safety net? You know, I’m still in the old way, but they just go and do it and get in competitions and win money. They make it work. I’m saying, ‘Man! If I had took that attitude when I was young.’ There’s no telling where I would be and what I’d be doing. There’s just no telling.”

Judy Bowman Detroit Artist
“Waiting for My Set II” by Judy Bowman

On leaving her mark in this world

“I’m wondering where I’m going to go from this point if I’ve gotten this far in 4 years. And then I look at the older artists in here (at the art opening reception) who are like in their eighties and nineties, and they’re kicking butt!”

“So I’m saying, okay I got a good ‘nother 25-30 years if I do it right. I’m a newbie, but I think I can do this. I think I can go somewhere with this. And that’s the other thing, I don’t want to come to this earth and leave and nobody knows that I was here. I want to be in the books. I want to be in the history books. I want to be in the museums, and I want my kids to know that you can be your own boss and your own entrepreneur.” 

Judy Bowman Detroit Artist


On pursuing art later in life

“Art, it’s a hustle! you gotta get out there and hustle. And you can’t be shy. You gotta go out there and talk to people. And you know, you gotta put yourself out there.”

“And it’s moving me! I’m here! I’m here! I’m doing it. I’m old compared to some of these young people, but I’m making my mark. I mean, I would have never thought my work would be on a window! So you know, that’s something to me.” 


Judy Bowman’s “Detroit Swag” art exhibition will be open to the public until August 23. Visit Playground Detroit’s official website for more information.

Visit Judy Bowman’s website for more information about her artwork, and you can follow her on Instagram here.

All photos were taken by Jennifer Hamra with permission from Playground Detroit/Judy Bowman.

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