• 'Knoll's Edge'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
  • 'An Invitation'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
  • 'Sojourn'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
  • 'The Feast'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
  • 'Tea'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
  • 'Nocturne'<br />
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All art is acrylic on canvas and by the artist Andrea Kowch
Apr 4, 2014

Andrea Kowch

Although she’s only in her twenties, artist Andrea Kowch is already well-known and well-respected in the art world for her powerful, dreamlike paintings and illustrations, which are rich in mood and symbolism yet maintain a certain vagueness to encourage dialogue with the viewer. Kowch has received numerous awards and honors in her still-young career, including the prestigious National Visual Arts Award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (now the National Young Arts Foundation) in 2005, an honor that ranks recipients in the top 2 percent of American talent. Her work has been exhibited at museums, galleries and shows around the country and featured on the covers of several art publications.

Kowch’s work has not only found an audience among art enthusiasts, but with renowned Italian hairstylist Mauro Basso, as well. Basso recently produced a video homage to the artist, recreating her paintings on live models and interpreting the intricate hairstyles they depict using Oribe products. Click here to see the video and read how Kowch’s work deeply moved Basso.

After viewing her evocative images, we spoke to Kowch about her intricate creative process, how she draws on various moods and human nature for inspiration and why she uses hair to tell part of each painting’s story.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you hone your craft?

I always had an innate need to paint from a very young age, but I did not officially make the decision to be an artist until I was in high school and won several Scholastic Art Awards. It was around the age of 12 when my passion for painting started getting serious and I began teaching myself how to paint, looking at books of art by Old Masters and trying as hard as I could to emulate that level of perfection. I still have that same hunger to reach those levels of perfection in my work today. I continue to hone my craft by staying passionate and working to consistently improve my skills on all levels—conceptually, technically and emotionally. One of the biggest challenges I face with each new body of work is the question, “How do I keep my work steadily evolving in order to avoid repetition and make each piece greater than the last?” And, “How can I achieve this while still maintaining consistency and staying personally satisfied, inspired and true to my message and myself all at the same time?” 

Each new body of work is a deeper progression of my narrative themes, where I seek to further refine the figurative and emotional aspects of my work through evolution of mood, concept, tone, and technique. For the past few years, my goal has been to create paintings that feel like pages of a larger story, with each one serving as an extension of the last and to evoke mystery and intrigue with the intent of promoting reflection and expanding imagination on the part of the viewer.

How would you describe your art?

I would describe my art as magic realism, narrative and dreamlike. There is always a hint of suspense and the unknown, a feeling that something is about to occur. One of the main things that carries my work is its deep underlying power of mood. There is a cinematic quality and a pulsing tension that is simultaneously subtle and intense. Each scene is complete with its own story, characters and backdrop, and everything works together in unison to create a complete scenario. My work is real, with a dreamlike quality that is not necessarily physically seen or portrayed, but rather felt on a deep, intuitive, spiritual level. The scene is real, but the feeling is where the magic lies. Not the other way around. Anyone can enter one of my scenes and feel the raw reality of them—old creaking clapboard, dry, windy earth and air—the magic of it is in the feelings the viewer draws from his or her own spirit as a result of looking at the scene before them. I have been told that my work contains a rare 3-dimensional effect, and that is conscious and intentional on my part. All the parts of my compositions are carefully constructed to elicit that response of walking into the scene and engaging with the subjects.

How has your aesthetic changed at all over time?

With each new painting, I find I discover something new that I want to try in the next one. I see things differently and sense I‘m developing a more refined eye in terms of what appeals to me visually and emotionally. Taking inspiration from different parts of history and eras, for example, and combining those elements in a way that still exudes a timeless effect is a major goal in my work. My interest in fashion and Americana continues to evolve and play a significant role as I hone the ways in which I merge styles and time periods to create a contemporary work of art. When viewers look at my work, I want the effect to be one of a unique and timeless world. In using vintage clothing and backgrounds reminiscent of a bygone America, it is important that I remain aware of my vision at all times, so that the image does not accidentally become dated or carry the feeling that it belongs to any specific time period. Therefore I combine various styles to create timeless ensembles—something old, something new, and then something unexpected. This part of my process is always very fluid. I stay open to possibilities when I create my compositions and clothe my models, because very often, an even better idea comes along once I become fully engaged with my work and models one-on-one. Spontaneity starts to happen, and, more often than not, results in the enhancement all preconceived ideas.

I’m very excited about my new body of work, and where it will lead me. It debuted in American Art Collector’s January 2014 issue, and at the LA Art Show in Los Angeles in January, where it was exhibited with my gallery, RJD Gallery. We have also recently completed a series of limited-edition prints of only 20, on archival paper, that are numbered and personally signed by me, to offer to those collectors who cannot currently afford an original painting. They were released concurrent with my first solo museum show and first museum catalog, “Dream Fields,” at the Muskegon Museum Art last fall, and received a wonderful response from the public.

What inspires you?

Life and the natural world continue to be main sources of inspiration to me. In the words of NC Wyeth, whose quote I so identify with: "I…have inherited that strange love for things remote, things delicately perfumed with that sadness that is so exquisitely beautiful…I only dare hope that I can commune these feelings to you in my work – sometime…I feel so moved sometimes toward nature that I could almost throw myself face down into a ploughed furrow - ploughed furrow understand! I love it so."

Emotions, memories, experiences, personal growth, rites of passage and moods that become stirred in me as a result of my visual surroundings all serve as gateways to my creativity. The way the wind blows across an open, expansive field, the strength and fragility of it. The space, clarity, and simplicity of nature, balanced against the complexity of the human condition. It’s not a simple thing to explain. It’s something bigger that speaks through me, resulting in the imagery I create. There are a lot of little twists and turns within the process before everything comes to fruition. I draw on various moods, emotions and psychological factors of the human experience: the dark and light sides of our feeling nature and the yearnings and inner quest to merge the two. Painting is partly my way of searching and attaining peace and understanding of others and myself. Things of mystery have always intrigued me, and I am drawn to painting raw beauty and psychological truths. Anything that conjures up images of a bygone America and way of life also resonates with me a deep level.

Describe your creative process.

My process involves the whole gamut of thinking, researching, photographing and sketching before going to paint and canvas. I like getting into my zone by putting on my favorite music and feeling my way towards a concept. Sometimes a drive out to the country is needed to refresh and spark new ideas. Once I feel an idea is solid enough to pursue, I sit down with a good cup of coffee and begin brainstorming compositions through rough thumbnails. Afterwards I put together outfits and set up and hold a photo shoot with my models. After doing that and selecting the right shots, I sit down and do a quick cut and paste mock-up of my scene using various pieces of photo reference that I have taken, to get a sense of how all the elements are working together. Once that is completed, it’s time to do a final, more detailed sketch or drawing, where I finalize the placement of all the small details to get a complete sense of the whole painting before moving to canvas. Solving all the details beforehand allows me to explore all my options and choose what works best so as to limit the possibility of any unwanted surprises later on in the painting process. The drawing is not necessarily the end-all result of what the painting will look like. It is simply a solid plan to have in place to allow me to fully envision a work; and whatever changes happen in between the final drawing and the final painting, happen due to a myriad of different factors, anywhere from a change in concept to a change in composition—whatever the goal happens to be at the time.

What story are you trying to tell through your paintings?

I think artists have an intrinsic duty to express and help viewers confront what we in our day-to-day lives cannot express as openly and easily. 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. The reality of this aspect, alone, drives me to explore, uncover and voice the emotional truth and core essence of who we are as human beings and 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. 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.

Your paintings have three common elements: people, animals and landscapes (even if just through a window). How do you see these things intersecting in real life and in art? Do you enjoy painting any one element more than the others?

All of these elements intersect in the sense that each affects the other and each needs the other in order to live. Preserving the earth, our farmlands, our landscapes, and recognizing the beauty and importance of nature, is crucial to sustainability of life. In art, there is something magical about each one of them. By focusing on that aspect and using it as the thread to fuse all the elements together, an ethereal world is created. That “magic” is not visible to most on an everyday basis. Art serves as a reminder to viewers to pause, reflect and realize that it does, indeed, exist around them.

I have always loved painting the figure first and foremost. It’s my way of connecting to both the viewer and myself. The animals present in my work serve as vehicles for emotional expression, signifying the underlying moods and feelings hidden beneath the stoicism of the human mask. Their presence bridges the human and natural worlds, symbolizing our primal bond and symbiotic relationship to nature. We now live in a modern world with all sorts of technology driving our existence, and we lose sight that we are, in fact, part of nature and have a primeval bond to it and responsibility to uphold it. I find that the desolate, expansive landscapes of rural America, particularly the Midwest, parallel the human condition in many profound ways. I was born and raised in the Midwest, it’s in my soul, and will always be part of me. It’s real, beautiful and evokes and emphasizes, for me, the essence and haunting beauty of solitude. I spend a lot of time alone and in my studio. It is during those quiet, private moments where I can make order out of chaos—and chaos out of order. It is that delicate balance and that fine-lined edge and tension between the two extremes that I strive to capture in my work—states of calm equilibrium on the verge of collapse, a sense that something is amiss, a gnawing uncertainty and unpredictability.

Your paintings also seem to show a lot of movement, including hair blowing in the wind. Is there meaning behind this?

The windswept hair of the figures reveals the underlying currents of emotion changing and surging through their inner, psychological worlds. Wind, to me, is always indicative of change, and so, 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. There is a dual side to everything. The real and unreal, history and the present, opposing emotions, endings and beginnings, nature's seasons and cycles, all of it is present at the core of my work.

Speaking of hair, how do you come up with the hair for your paintings?

The hair came about when I was experimenting with finding a personal style. During the time, as an undergrad in art school, I was experimenting with ways to incorporate more looseness and spontaneity in my painting. In the end, I went back to what I loved most and did best--crisp, detailed work, but the hair remained. I liked the play between the tightness and looseness of the elements versus the hair, respectively, and the way in which it gave my work an otherworldly, almost surrealistic quality. It became my stylistic trademark ever since, and I'm continuing to explore new ways to evolve it.

The women in your works often have very serious expressions. Why is that?

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-various energies of which are symbolized by the hair, animals, and environments surrounding the characters within the picture. 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. It stirs excitement and enhances the drama and storyline.

What are your interests outside of art?

I love learning and growing as a person, traveling to new places when I can, supporting my favorite charities, reading and researching, antique hunting, long walks with my dog, and yoga. I began practicing it about two years ago, and it has become a special, regular part of my life.
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