Michigan artist Andrea Kowch’s figurative approach, unusually intense portraiture and reverence for the human experience all give her work a rooted, determined feeling that speaks to the American experience—past, present and future. See for yourself when RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor presents the award-winning artist’s solo show, Across a Rural Skyline, from Aug. 28 to Sept. 28. In advance of the show, I spoke with Kowch about her upbringing, what she loves about Long Island and of course her new work.
Long Island Pulse: You’re from Detroit, but I don’t normally associate that part of the country with rural farm life. The Midwestern themes in your work are prevalent, but are they born of personal experience or outward observation/fascination?
AK: The Midwestern themes are born as a result of both personal experience and longtime outward observation and fascination. I was born in Detroit and raised in its suburbs from the age of two onward. Growing up I was exposed to all parts of the spectrum in terms of urban grit, rural life and even nautical life. Michigan is a special mix of all those things.
Pulse: Some of these women in your paintings appear to be completely overwhelmed, some at complete peace. Is this a reflection of your inner/outer environment?
AK: From my own personal and artistic standpoint, your impression is correct, though there is no right or wrong answer, as I prefer that the ambiguousness creates dialogue and opens up possibilities for viewers to bring their own interpretations to the imagery. 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. I am interested in painting things that inspire thought, reflection and emotion, subject matter that carries substance, is steeped in mystery and releases dramatic, psychological undercurrents that feel a bit unsettling but are nonetheless dreamlike in their arrangement as a whole.
Pulse: Is there a statement at large in these depictions? I get solitude and something of a grim strength from them.
AK: Each painting is essentially an extension of me, serving as an indirect, metaphorical self-portrait of sorts. As I move through life, growing, evolving, experiencing and making my way as an artist and as a woman who values hard work and independence—all the feelings and states of mind that reflect and are inspired by those various moments in my life, contribute to the creation of my work. The desolate, expansive landscapes of rural America, particularly the Midwest of course, parallel the human condition in many profound ways for me.
Pulse: It’s very “backbone of America….”
AK: As a Midwesterner, it’s in my soul and will always be part of me. It’s beautiful, real and, for me, evokes and emphasizes the essence and haunting beauty that is solitude. The characters’ expressions are more so 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, observing everything from the “outside.” Perhaps there is a certain amount of “danger” afoot. That all depends on what the viewer brings to the story.
Pulse: How did you come to work on Long Island?
AK: Frequent visits to places in New York City like the Metropolitan Museum of Art really get me going. The first time I visited Sag Harbor and the Hamptons for my first show years ago was nothing short of surreal. Having never been exposed to such a place or lifestyle before that moment was quite an amazing, otherworldly experience, as you can imagine. Having been involved with RJD Gallery for six years now, New York and Long Island have become like a second home to me and have truly enriched my life experience.
Pulse: What do you love most about Long Island?
AK: As I continue to return on occasion I am able to notice and take in a lot more of the natural beauty, charm and history of the area as a whole. There is something very special about the light there. The glow of the evening sun on the East End is unlike anywhere else.