Life-drawing of an old woman
, pencil on wove paper, late 1960s
© Royal Academy of Arts, London May sitting on the Roof Garden
, oil on canvas, 1975
© Royal Academy of Arts, London Crouch Farmhouse, Barlavington
, soft-ground etching, 1980s
© Royal Academy of Arts, London Back view of Carel Weight painting
, pencil on wove paper, ca. 1980s
© Royal Academy of Arts, London
Olwyn Bowey, who celebrates her seventy-sixth birthday this month, is primarily known for her intimate depictions of greenhouses and plant life. Although she began her career painting mostly portraits, over the last thirty years she has turned increasingly to rural depictions.
Bowey was born on 10 February 1936 in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham. In the 1950s she studied at West Hartlepool School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London, graduating in 1960 with a First Class Diploma, a continuation scholarship and a David Murray Landscape Scholarship.
While at the Royal College, Bowey was taught by Carel Weight RA (1908-1997). The two remained good friends after she left the college and at this time Weight had a studio just on the other side of the road from where Bowey lived and worked in Putney. Weight was an avid collector of art by his friends, contemporaries and historical figures, many of which entered the collection of the Royal Academy as part of his bequest. One of these is a life-drawing of an older woman 
, which Bowey made at one of the Saturday morning life classes at which she taught at Ealing School of Art in the late 1960s.
Bowey taught at various art schools in the 1960s and 1970s, where she painted several portraits of her students, and she became recognised increasingly as an important portrait painter. Bowey thinks that it was the strength of her portraits that encouraged her election to the Royal Academy (she became an Associate Royal Academician in 1970 and a full Royal Academician in 1975).
Her Diploma Work to the Academy is a portrait of a woman called May painted in 1975. Bowey recalls that May worked as a housekeeper for a gallery owner in Hampstead. Unlike many people Bowey knew, May did not mind having her portrait painted and was a very amiable sitter. The painting was made on a terrace at the top of a mews in the City. Bowey recalls that the Burmese cat in the background, with one leg in plaster, had broken its leg jumping off the balcony 
During the 1980s Bowey taught at the Royal Academy Schools and was encouraged to try out etching by the Technician of the Schools, Lawrence Jenkins, who was one of her former students from Maidstone School of Art. On the whole she has had little patience with the process of printmaking, but in this case she liked the more immediate method of drawing on the spot using tracing paper on a soft ground from which Jenkins then printed the works 
Bowey says that she 'really wanted to be a naturalist and a botanist, rather than a painter', and a visit to a friend's house in the village of Barlavington in West Sussex encouraged her move away from London. She moved into a cottage on the estate, and on several occasions Weight came and stayed with her and the two would go on painting outings together. Bowey remembers that Weight was very disciplined with working on a particular painting of cornfields on one visit and would go out to paint three times a day, in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. Bowey made a number of drawings of Weight while he was out painting this work 
. She has found sitters harder to find in the countryside, and her work has become concerned increasingly with plant life and greenhouses, which are her passions.
As well as the Royal Academy, Bowey's work is held in several public collections, including the Arts Council, Carlisle Museum and Art Gallery, Government Art Collection and Tate.
Back view of Carel Weight painting
can be seen as part of Driven to Draw: Twentieth-century Drawings and Sketchbooks from the Royal Academy's Collection in the Tennant Gallery
until 12 February 2012.