NAME: Marie Hines Cowan
LOCATION: New Rochelle, NY
ORIGIN: Brooklyn, New York
ART: Oil Painting and writing
MAIN GENRE: Painting
TRAINING: New York University (Classical Literature), Fashion Institute of Technology (Illustration), New York Summer School of the Arts, Apprenticeship with fine artist Sweeney.
ARTS AFFILIATIONS: National Association of Women Artists (NAWA), Pen an Brush, Portrait Society of America, Katonah Museum of Art, New Rochelle Council of the Arts, Arts Westchester.
BIO: Marie Hines Cowan is a figurative oil painter who marries mythology with colloquial culture. The work is narrative, life sized, and representational, though unconstrained by realism. Willing to push color further than the average eyes sees, Hines Cowan’s work is bold, colorful and painterly, but also graphic and illustrative.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Jumping feet first into the exhibition world in 1979, Hines Cowan has been exhibiting in the tri-state area and Europe ever since. She exhibited in six venues last year, and in 2014 will have a solo exhibition at the National Association of Women Artists Gallery.
Hines Cowan is a leader in arts organizations across the tri state area. She is the Exhibition Committee Chair, as well as the President of the National Association of Women Artists, and a member of Pen and Brush.
Hines Cowan’s paintings have been featured in NYU’s literary journal Icarus, and most recently, in The Huffington Post. Curator Margarita Aguilar, who has worked with Hines Cowan on two exhibitions, wrote the essay,” Men and Women: Marie Hines, Portraits 2004″.
Having first met Greek mythological personae in literary form in the early seventies, now, Hines Cowan visualizes them on Manhattan street corners and finds her paintings informed by their stories as she works in the studio.
Please describe your artistic themes
“Oh sing Muse”. Many an artist has echoed these words made immortal by Homer. When I included my voice in the chorus I added, “sing of a time when gods walked the earth like mortals”, and with my words they did. The muses sang and the gods walked. Thus my project NY Muse began.
The immediate inspiration for this project is New York City and the people that populate it as well as the instances of popular arts and culture that signify New York mental culture to me, such as, a Public Works Project, the doomed Edie Sedgwick (an Andy Warhol associate), Dr. Seuss, a Vogue Magazine fashion photo spread, Jimi Hendricks, punk music and the New Public Library lions. On the other end of the inspirational spectrum are those classical tales, the Greek myths. I am influenced, as Ovid was, by the Neoteric poets, bringing colloquial culture into my work, mixing it with the classics and expecting the work to be enjoyed on its many levels.
Central to my work is the idea of modern culture being firmly linked through archetypes, the unconscious and the universal stories that humans have been telling ourselves, in one form or another, since the beginning of our conscious. The people I paint are modern, but portray ancient archetypical beings, anthromorphosized ideas. My stories are new and personal but have been told for millennium. Using these two forms of art, the visual and the verbal, I bring together the two sides of the Greek word ekphrasis.
All of the mythological creatures in my images and stories are New Yorkers. Gods are made in the image of their worshipers and the Greek gods are nothing if not flexible, encompassing of the cultures they come in contact with over the centuries. My Athena looks like a South African expatriate, who lives in Bed-Stuy. My Nike is a tall thin Asian woman who never seems quite heavy enough to touch the ground. My Sphinx is rejuvenated as a black woman who kicks one of those masculine lions off its pedestal in front of the library on Fifth Avenue.
I am a painter, a visualist, and also a reader. I love words. To me words and pictures are the same. I am a visual artist whose images are also stories. My paintings are like serial novellas, ekphrasis, like Hesiod’s Shield of Heracles. They are the illustrations for an artist’s book that is very large in both physicality and content. The paintings are narratives, often humorous, re-workings and commentary on old stories. I exist in a world filled by my imagination, overrun with anthropomorphize philosophies and ideas, and peopled with mythological beings. From the moment my childish hands could hold an implement, I have been an artist, at the same time one of my first books, was D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Thus my fate was set.
Eventually the beings of my imagination became flesh and infiltrated my world. They became the person on the subway, joined the New York nightlife, got jobs in my office, and they showed up at my studio. This began my current body of work. These iconoclastic ideas, philosophies and the characters of Greek mythology became personified by the everyday people of New York regardless of race, religion, status or age. Greek mythology may seem removed from today’s world and limiting, but mythology is something that evolves and grows with its raconteur. It takes on aspects of the culture it has joined and adds its own ideologies to that culture. Mythology is a melting pot, like New York.
The germ of each painting begins as a story bursting into my conscience. Images begin to coalesce around and in conjunction with these stories. The figure(s) in the image have a definite personalities and appearances and the model who can portray them, enabling me to create the mood, attitude and persona the painting needs must be searched for. My models are actors of a sort, projecting feelings and emotions. Sometimes I give them props, sometimes serendipity comes into play and the models bring to the session something surprising, but entirely in keeping with the story and painting.
Textually, as well as Greek mythology, my current work is influenced by neoteric Roman writers and the idea (The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain) that feminine idea creation is more circular and less linear then masculine idea creation. It also encompasses the oral beginnings of storytelling, and the idea that a story is modified dependent on it audience, and also that the stories that offshoots from the central tale don’t depend on a particular order of telling or even the central story being told at the time, but only of the central story being in the collective knowledge, (sometimes even unconscious knowledge) of the listeners.
So, my paintings and my writing make references to art, writing and thoughts traditionally attributed to the genre around Greek mythology, but also to many things that exist in the knowledge sphere surrounding a person born in the US 1960’s. They are small tales like Ovid’s Metamorphoses with an underlying theme, but able to exist independently of each other and to shift positioning in the narrative. I say, my paintings are narratives, but perhaps conversations would be a better description.
Please describe your creative process
I am a figurative painter; my work is stylized, but representational. My paintings are large scale, generally life size. The figures, protagonists, confront the viewer to share their experiences; they demand a response. No simple voyeurism is allowed. I paint in oil on canvas, with both colorful and bold strokes. I approach from a traditional painting atelier background, starting with under painting over a sketch, and continuing with glazing and scumbling. My work is painterly but also delineated color blocks and has been influenced not only by past fine artists like Michelangelo, Klimt, Schiele and Parmagiano, but also by illustrators such as Beardsley, Leyendecker, Antonio, Mucha and the ancient Greek potters. Believing in fat over lean and mixing mediums based on Ralph Mayer’s recipes, I then go and break the rules of traditional painting. Following the letter but not the intent of the law, I do not use neutral colors in my under painting, but rather primary or sometimes the complementary colors. I often glaze with opaque colors, and my palette is intense and aggressive, like my subject matter. Somehow the overwhelming intensities of nature seem far more interested than its subtleties. To keep the purity of color needed to portray the transcendental personae I paint, I never mix more than three colors on the palette, to arrive at each color put on the canvas. My work begins with a charcoal sketch on paper for composition and scale. After determining the size and stretching and priming the canvas I re-sketch the drawing onto the canvas. The next step is the first under painting, generally done in primary colors to block in major shapes and shadows. Then there is the next level of under painting, with intermediate colors layered on in a somewhat heavy glaze. And so I continue with progressively thinning layers of glazing until an intensely colored finish is reached.
What are your artistic goals?
To continue to mix genres and mediums, two-dimensional figurative painting with literature and three-dimensional relief work. I am also planning an artists book based on my current project.
What are your views on the industry?
It is a very tough industry to be in. It takes a huge amount of dedication. An artist needs to be so much more than just an artist, but also a publicist, a writer etc. Time management is key. Social media in some ways makes things easier but it also adds a whole other layer of work for the artist.
What advice could you give to emerging artists?
Work hard and be true to yourself.