o enter the magic realism of Andrea Kowch’s allegorical paintings is not unlike the experience of wandering into the woods with the deliberate intent of getting lost. One does it willingly, without trepidation, and yet, once there, it becomes gradually apparent that we just may have gotten ourselves in a wee bit over our heads. Dorothy returning to Kansas only to discover that there might have been more to the humble hometown than originally understood. One feels at once settled and unsettled.
So enter, Friend, and lose yourself. And no one will blame you if at some point it just feels right to start humming…
INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN PAINTER ANDREA KOWCH
Detroit, Michigan ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your narrative style is so strong and thoroughly-conceived, would it be fair to call you a storyteller? What were the fairy-tales that as a girl first ignited your imagination? Or did you find a lack of narratives for the story of your own life? What stories were not being told?
Andrea Kowch: I do see myself as a storyteller on several levels. Telling stories through my work is something that comes very natural to me. It’s one of the main reasons I chose to study Illustration in college.
Andrea Kowch: While I usually begin work on a painting with a particular thought and message in mind, there are times when I see an image in my mind’s eye first, without any sort of specific literal meaning attached at that moment.
Sometimes the meaning comes to light upon its completion, when I sit down to figure out why I painted it. The concepts and imagery that often come about on their own tend to be ignited by the simplest thing: the way a curtain moves in a hot summer breeze, for instance, might create a scenario in my head. I may imagine myself in an old farmhouse, feeling that same breeze rolling in over the surrounding fields just beyond the window. The canvas is where I am able to bring all these personal, imaginative musings to life, and realize them.
Andrea Kowch: I loved fairy-tales as a girl, and still do. They were an escape into a romantic, mysterious, and magical world. The classic tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm were the first to charge my imagination as a child. I later discovered and fell in love with the art of Arthur Rackham and Howard Pyle, and Pyle’s written work, such as The Wonder Clock and Pepper and Salt.
[quote]I’ve always been drawn to and intrigued by stories that are a bit twisted; the ones containing strange characters and a prevailing sense of impending danger. Perhaps that’s why my paintings often carry a similar feeling. There’s always an aspect of something unknown about to happen. The story is never fully revealed, it simply continues on, each painting serving as the next page or chapter.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What led you to select these particular friends to become your recurring models?
Andrea Kowch: It’s difficult to describe. They are dear friends of mine, and they each just have a special something about them that inspires and beautifully personifies, on several different levels, the many things I seek to evoke through my work.
Andrea Kowch: The look in their eye, the shape of their profile, their attitude, the list goes on. They are all similar and different at the same time. I feel a very sacred and special connection towards them when I paint, and I believe that that feeling is, in large part, due to the fact that I know them on a personal level.
Andrea Kowch: It’s different painting someone you don’t know very well. I feel almost as if the painting process unearths the deeper aspects of their personalities to me, whether those aspects are real or imagined on my part.
Andrea Kowch: I find that each of my models, as people, contain certain personality traits that resonate with me. As a result, I am able to identify with each of them on various different levels, and thus imagine things through them, because each character in my paintings is essentially a metaphorical self-portrait.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: The palette and metaphors of autumn, in particular the electrified wind of change, figures prominently throughout your work. What is it about this time of year that speaks so deeply to your soul and spirit? What are the gifts the season brings?
Andrea Kowch: [quote]Autumn is my favorite season. The scents in the air, changing landscapes, colors, mood of the sky, air of ominous foreshadowing… It’s when the earth begins to truly bare its soul. [/quote]It’s when I can feel the bones, core, and essence of nature. There is also a cozy and mysterious quality that inspires me to turn inward and relish solitude and explore deeper feelings. The heavy, rolling clouds spark moods in me which translate into the work. A beautiful sense of melancholy and nostalgia permeates everything as the natural world prepares to surrender itself over to winter. All of those things are very poignant, and speak to my soul in many profound ways.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: One can’t help but notice that the air is stirred in your paintings even when everything else in the landscaped might be eerily stilled. What does wind represent to you?
Andrea Kowch: [quote]Wind, to me, is always indicative of change. The windswept hair of the figures reveals the underlying currents of emotion changing and surging through their inner, psychological worlds, while their outer visage remains still and controlled. Movement and transformation are heavily implied by the presence of wind in my work. There is also a liberating quality to wind that I find freeing in many ways. It’s an elemental force of nature that can move things forward or spiral things out of control. I’ve had whirlwind experiences in my life of both the good and bad sort, so I view the power of wind as a spiritual force in many ways, as well. There’s no telling in which direction the wind will ultimately ever blow.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: The inscrutable expressions on your women’s faces is perhaps what haunts the viewer the most; for even in this wide open landscape surrounded by soul sisters, these women cannot exactly be construed as happy, or even content. Is there danger afoot? Should we be concerned? What’s the missing piece to their joy?
Andrea Kowch: It’s not necessarily about a lack of joy to me, though others may interpret it that way. My aim is not to depict any specific emotion. I like to keep things ambiguous. The characters’ expressions are meant to reflect being in a state of mindfulness, detached from and observant of the emotional undercurrents flowing beneath. The figure is often spellbound by a moment, frozen in thought. Perhaps there is a certain amount of “danger” afoot. That all depends on what the viewer brings to the story. I enjoy incorporating a sense of edge and suspense.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you think discontent is universal to the human experience? Would it be fair to say that this is what most drives you as an artist? Is happiness contra-indicated for artists?
Andrea Kowch: Discontent is certainly part of the human experience, yes. Happiness is a free, easy feeling ~ an open emotion that is automatically understood and readily accepted. The highest ideal of human feeling that we all consciously and unconsciously yearn for and seek to experience. I think artists are intrigued by and have an intrinsic duty to express and help viewers confront what we in our day-to-day lives cannot express as openly and easily, due to feelings of fear and vulnerability. Because of this, people walk around wearing a mask most of the time. Our inner, less exhibited emotions are complex, requiring examination because they are not as readily expressed. And, as a result, are less understood and accepted.
Andrea Kowch: The reality of this aspect, alone, drives me to explore and gives me a sense of duty to uncover and voice the emotional truth and core essence of who we are as human beings, why we feel the way we do. By creating visual narratives, I want people to see all these components of our nature in a universal light. [quote]The process of being a painter has served as a form of self-therapy for me, in that all the hours I spend painting, I also spend thinking and allowing myself to fully feel my deepest emotions and know myself. I come out of each piece transformed in a new way each time. [/quote]People need encouragement to get in touch with their realest emotions and embrace them. What some may see in my work as “intense” or “disturbing”, others may see as beautiful and liberating. It happens all the time, and neither interpretation is correct or incorrect. It’s all a matter of perception and where one is in his or her own emotional journey. My job is not to dictate. It’s to open up the viewer’s mind and invite dialogue that hopefully leads us all, collectively, towards a deeper understanding of ourselves and everyone around us.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Best memory growing up?
Andrea Kowch: Weekend trips out to the country. It’s where I was able to escape into my little world.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You’ve received a number of luscious honors for your artwork, both here in the States and on an international level. What has been the highlight so far of your career?
Andrea Kowch: I feel very blessed and grateful for all the honors I’ve received. I’m on an amazing journey, and each honor has been a highlight and a beautiful stepping stone paving the way. It’s impossible to choose just one, but if I really had to, I would have to say that the biggest highlight to date for me was handing my favorite singer, Dave Gahan, of Depeche Mode, a copy of my recently published catalogue, Dream Fields, just a few weeks ago. He’s the man behind the voice and music I most often create my work to, and it’s a long, fairytale-like story of a surreal sequence of events that led up to it. But, it happened, and it happened all due to everything else that has occurred up to this point, such as the purchase of my painting, Sojourn by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection, and my current solo retrospective exhibition, Dream Fields, at the Muskegon Museum of Art.
Andrea Kowch: Both mark my official entrance into the museum world, and it’s simply a dream come true. All things aside, I, above all, value and count among the greatest highlights all the wonderful relationships and people whom I’m having the honor and pleasure of knowing and working with, such as my phenomenal gallerist, Richard Demato, and a long list of many others who have worked with us to help make all these experiences possible and all the more richer simply by being part of them. I’m forever grateful.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Are there themes you have yet to explore?
Andrea Kowch: Absolutely. Everything evolves, and whatever those themes may turn out to be, is another question, for they have yet to be discovered. I know that right now, I am only scratching the surface of all there is to explore. It’s a good feeling, and I know that new themes and ideas will inspire and present themselves in time. Life is my guide, and I’m excited to see what the future has in store.
Andrea Kowch has been described as “a powerful voice emerging, demonstrating a highly sensitive consciousness that informs a culturally-laced symbolism.” Born in Michigan in 1986, she attended Detroit’s College for Creative Studies through a Walter B. Ford II Scholarship, and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2009 with a BFA degree in illustration. Her paintings, book illustrations, and works on paper are rich in mood, allegory, and precision of medium, reflecting a wealth of influences from Northern Renaissance and American art to the rural landscapes and vernacular architecture of her native Michigan.
Kowch has already received numerous honors in her young career commencing in 2003, at age 17, with seven regional Gold Key awards and two national Gold Medal awards from the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards program for creative teens. Her acceptance into these juried national exhibitions earned her representation at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 2003, and at the Diane von Furstenberg Gallery in New York in 2004. By 2005, she was granted a National ARTS in the Visual Arts Award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (now the National YoungArts Foundation). The winning entries were exhibited at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, Miami. In 2008, Kowch received the Best of Show Purchase Award from the Northbrook Library’s annual juried international exhibition, and in the same year received an Illustration Faculty Award from the College for Creative Studies. She has been represented in museum and gallery exhibitions and invitational and juried shows of regional, national, and international caliber, including the Muskegon Museum of Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, ArtPrize, and the Northville Art House, all in Michigan; Art Basel Miami, and SCOPE NYC. She has also been featured in several publications, including Spectrum and Direct Art—art annuals that select artworks through international jury for inclusion in their publications—and in Southwest Art’s annual competition whose winners take center stage in their Emerging Artist Spotlight issue. Kowch’s work can be found in public collections, among them the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Northbrook Library, Northbrook, Illinois, and the Brooklyn Art Library, Brooklyn, New York, and in many significant private collections.
ANDREA KOWCH—Artist Statement
Inspired by memories, inner emotions, history, and my fascination with nature and the human psyche, the stories behind my paintings stem from life’s emotions and experiences, resulting in narrative, allegorical imagery that illustrates the parallels between human experience and the mysteries of the natural world.
The lonely, desolate American landscape encompassing the paintings’ subjects serves as an exploration of nature’s sacredness and a reflection of the human soul, symbolizing all things powerful, fragile, and eternal. These real, yet dreamlike, scenarios serve as metaphors for the human condition, all retaining a sense of vagueness because I wish to involve and motivate the viewer in uncovering the various layers of mood and meaning to form conclusions from their own perspective, despite that my main idea will always be before them.
We all share a common thread, and as active participants in an ever-changing modern world, the purpose of my work is to remind viewers of these places that we sometimes perceive no longer exist, and to recognize and honor them as a part of our history that is worth preserving.
In juxtaposing the human form with animals and a bygone uninhibited American landscape, I provide glimpses into “rooms,” those oftentimes chaotic places we possess internally. The rural, Midwestern landscape of my home state serves as backdrop for the stage of human emotions. The animals present are vehicles for expressing the feelings and underlying tensions suppressed behind the human mask. Symbolic explorations of the soul and events concerning our environment are expressed through the combination of these elements to transform personal ideas into universal metaphors.
To connect with Kowch and view more of her work, please visit her website.