Okay, obviously you already know who Claire Cowie is. This is the first in a series of artist profiles. After seeing Peacock, I wanted to email her and talk about her inspiration. Here is our exchange.
Peacock (Image via James Harris Gallery)
First off – congratulations. You are currently in two really great shows: "Century 21: Dealer's Choice" at Wright Exhibition Space & "Light, Seeking Light" at Western Bridge. You have standout pieces in both! Were these the respective debuts of Peacock and Moth?
Yes - I made the Peacock piece with no specific exhibition intentions. It was an important piece for me to make as I was transitioning from one body of work to another. I made it to see if I could really push a kind of density of information and complexity and still keep a certain amount of negative space and diagonal movement as well. I also wanted to see if I could work with that imagery at that scale. I was lucky that it was chosen for this show and now it gets a public life. The piece Moth at Western Bridge was commissioned by Bill and Ruth True and is something I've wanted to make for a few years but until now I didn't have the right space to realize it properly. I couldn't be happier with the installation spot and the context of the current exhibition.
Susan Grover selected you for participation in the Century 21: Dealer's Choice show?
Yes - I was so pleased to have been chosen by her. She's shown some of my favorite artists like Akio Takamori and Gene McMahon.
You currently show at James Harris Gallery (Seattle) and Elizabeth Leach (Portland)?
Yes - each of the galleries allows me to do a different kinds of show. Elizabeth Leach's space is huge and I love the Portland art scene; the entire community is really involved and a ton of people show up at the openings. There are a lot of really good artists in Portland and there is an eagerness to the act of looking at and talking about art that I really like. Jim Harris was the first person to show my work and he is always very supportive of my process and very open with his opinions. I think he is emotionally quite dedicated to art, to those who make it and buy it and live with it.
You've also shown at Frye Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery, Kirkland Art Center, cherrydelosreyes Gallery and others. Does any show in particular jump out to you for any reason?
I loved the exhibit at the Frye that Robin Held put together to show Ben and Aileen Krohn's collection, for the same reason that I love Western Bridge. The art takes on new meanings in a group context, and I love seeing collections of all kinds. They are really all about the collectors' interests, motivations, taste, research, etc - and it's a little voyeuristic.
I wanted to chat with you after I saw Peacock at Wright Exhibition Space. WOW! It popped out at me. It’s huge (68” x 48”) and alluring. I wanted to spend the afternoon (literally) in the painting! Because your paintings are so inviting, do you ever find yourself getting lost in them as you work on them?
I do, and sometimes for the worse, as it can cause over-working or other self-indulgent kinds of mark-making. Fun to work on, but the message can get lost or obliterated and the end result disappointing. Sometimes the hardest part is stopping, waiting, leaving it.
Usually your animal subjects are much more humble (rabbits, bears, horses, meerkats and indistinct birds) but you caught me off guard when I saw the peacock! Any specific reason for the emergence of the peafowl?
Uh... is it wrong to say that it's because I go to the zoo all the time now that I have a kid? I am amazed at all the drama and personality with the animals. I love the peacocks running loose all over the zoo, like squirrels. But, they are so grand and really unbelievable. It doesn't seem quite right. They act almost indignant about having to be at such a low-class party, and they are constantly looking for the way out. They are trying hard to be graceful, but desperation sets in as we lesser beings try to make eye contact.
SIDENOTE: Have you heard of the band The Amps (a Kim Deal band)? I'm nuts over a song called, “ Tipp City“ and my favorite line from the song goes, “PEACOCK! Caught looking in a mirror – stop drinking my beer!”
I don't remember that line specifically, but I love Kim Deal's lyrics in general.
Your colors are getting more bold every year! Was the palette derived from the subject matter?
The palette is getting more and more crazy, a little garish, a little challenging. I don't know why yet, actually, but I'm doing it consciously and trying to figure it out. I'm working on new drawings for a show at James Harris in November and in those pieces I'm trying to strike a balance between disturbing and elegant, color included.
I don't recall seeing any moths prior to “Light, Seeking Light”. Are they something that has been germinating for a while? Or were they very site specific? They fit in so well – beautifully integrated. Did you have a specific moment when you knew the piece was really working?
Well, as mentioned before - yes to both questions. It was all about right place, right time. I was really excited when I realized that the particular space provided not only the necessary artificial light, but also good views and angles from many different vantage points, from close and far, looking up and down, from inside and outside, seeing only details or getting it all in one view, etc.
I love the subtlety of Light, Seeking Light. If you're not paying attention, you could actually miss the art. I love the Mary Temple piece, too!
I love Mary's piece as well. I watched her work for about a month and that helped enforce the ideas I too was working with. Our pieces are obviously really different, but the detail and intensity of work necessary to convey an ultimately subtle image was so pervasive in her working style, that I felt a little reminder and validation whenever I stopped by in-progress. She's also just very smart and diligent and kind.
Congrats again -- they're both really great pieces.
Updated 10/14: Betsey Brock from Hankblog gives "best of" a shout-out.
Updated 10/14: Regina posted a beautiful piece on Claire's moths here.