MARIE HINES COWAN | PRESIDENT OF NAWA FROM 2014-2015
Q. How long have you been a member of NAWA?
A. Three years, since Fall 2011.
Q. Why did you choose to apply to NAWA?
A. In summer of 2011, I needed to get in gear, to move forward. Rene Phillips at Manhattan Arts, who is a consultant to artists, suggested NAWA. Because it was a women’s group, it seemed like a good idea. I looked at the website. You can tell a lot from the website, that it has a professional public presence. Plus, I trusted Rene’s recommendation.
Q. What do you know about the history of NAWA, and what about it is especially significant for you?
A. Of particular significance to me is that women were stepping forward despite a lack of encouragement from the art establishment. I am happy outside the establishment, so that was significant to me. Also the long history. Once I got involved, the broad scope of the work [by the members] and the different genres. It was open.
Q. To your knowledge, how has NAWA changed or remained constant since it was founded 125 years ago?
A. Not really. It’s always been rather open, that’s a constant. It has continued to be relevant in pushing women forward. [Some think] the Guerilla Girls happened, so we don’t need this organization. No, we still need NAWA. to continue. We still aren’t on the same level as men. We’re still not on equal footing.
Q. What does it mean to you to be the first black or African American president of NAWA?
A. It’s an honor to be president, period. It is great in taking our mission another step— taking women and putting all types of women forward. We started with the broad minority of women in general moving forward, not recognizing or pulling out specifics, but we are now giving more minority groups representation. Minority women are in our group—as we push women forward, not just the [ethnic] majority, but also doing it for women from minority groups.
Q. How would you describe your vision for NAWA?
A. I’d like us to be a group of greater importance in the world, with a truly public presence; to be something curators or critics look to to find women artists; to have relevant exhibits; to be more far-reaching; to have exhibitions with a much higher profile.
Q. What are your goals as president?
A. To start the ball rolling to make us more visible; use modern tools to the most that we can-Constant Contact, Websites, Facebook, etc.; to upgrade our understanding and use these as they’re meant to be used; to get people in the art world involved; to get our honorary Vice Presidents more involved in panels, jurying, book signings, VIP events, etc. These will help us and I would like to continue these kinds of things going forward.
Q. How do you see NAWA’s relevance in the 2010’s; in the 21st century?
A. We still need it. We’re not where we need to be yet. We need to continue to build ourselves up so our work is not of secondary importance to US – compared to all else that we do. We need to “Lean In”—see what we do as important. NAWA says this not only to the world, but to US.
Q. What would an art investor care about in buying a NAWA artist’s work?
A. I’d hope that as we move forward, that NAWA would be a great stepping – stone to important careers. Our shows should be more relevant to artists being picked up by galleries. Seeing artists in our exhibits means an artist will go places with her career. So this means it’s a good investment for an art buyer. We’re not there yet, but this is where we’d like to be even more.
Q. How can NAWA help raise an artist’s profile in a competitive market?
A. First we have to raise our own profile — have more relevant shows, get people connected with us to work with us more closely. We need great and important exhibitions with great and important jurors in good spaces, and we need to publicize them well.
Q. How has NAWA contributed to your growth as an artist? As a person?
A. It certainly has shown me more behind the scenes of exhibitions, as exhibitions chair. As a person, it has made me more organized, less timid. I can be extremely shy, so it’s done a lot to wipe that out. I would never have done public speaking three years ago. As an artist — it has done nothing to my art or painting, but it has given me the confidence to step forward and put my artwork forward. I am growing in my studio, I joined a critique group, so I’ve grown in my life and confidence to continue forward with [the work].
Q. Has your work changed since you became a member of NAWA?
A. Yes, it has actually. I’ve added an installation part to it. I had stories in my head [before], but I got “out of the box”, [adding lettering]. The 3D aspect out of the canvas is different than painting letters directly on the canvas.
Q. How would you describe your work/process?
A. I start out with a “big bang” idea. I spend months, sometimes years thinking about it. I’ve had one since 1986 [that I’ll do one day]. I’ll take photos, not do a huge amount of preparatory drawings, and no sketchbooks or massive amounts of drawings. I do maybe two sketchy drawings, then decide on a size. I do all my own stretching and priming, then I re-draw the image on canvas — no projecting. I use primary colors, all oil paints, for the underpainting. Anything that will be warm in the end, I paint blue. Anything cool, I paint red. Anything in between, I paint yellow. This makes the colors more luminescent than neutral. I learned about colors through pastels, à la Seurat, but in a more linear fashion. I’ve never been attracted to “mud.” I create contrast through a glazing method in thin layers, painting only over dry paint, as a Renaissance painter would, thinning with turpentine, stand oil (think linseed oil), damar varnish and cobalt dryer. I got this recipe from Ralph Mayer’s artist’s handbook, which I got at Pearl Paint when I was just out of college. For the underpainting, I only thin with turps — the first layer only, then the second layer and above, I use the above recipe, usually adding about four layers. The series on New York City Muses represents about four years of work, from 2010 until now. One was done in 2004, but I followed up later. I’m still working on that series [shown in the NAWA Gallery in April 2014]. In 2000 was when it really started. My interest in this theme was why I went back to school to study Greek mythology to base the paintings, beginning in 1994. I finished this literary study in 2000. I got my art degree in 1989. I use the glazing, sometimes with a scumbling, using opaque materials, sometimes gold leaf or metal powders like mica, and a vacuum.
Q. Do you varnish?
A. Yes. One painting, which is 11’ wide x 6’ tall has a background of gold leaf: The Death of Acteon. I reference Klimt—showing pug dogs and three women in towels, women worshippers in drugged-out rages, killing men and reading an Ann Rice book.
Q. Where would you say you want your work to go next?
A. I’d really like to have a series related to New York Muses in a small museum and give talk about the literature my literature, that surrounds them, referencing, inspired by ancient tales, but creating modern mythology.
Q. How do you manage to find time to do your artwork with all you do?
A. I don’t know. I’m at a difficult point. It’s hard. Very hard. I’m having to make difficult decisions. My studio is outside my home, about five minutes away, but my biggest obstacles are time, health and being too enthusiastic for too many projects.