It’s difficult to believe that artist Andrea Kowch is still in her twenties. Her paintings reverberate with the primal energy of American masters Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth and astonish with their unique, mythic beauty. Kowch’s body of work to date is a remarkably large one, encompassing many paintings and drawings. What’s not surprising about this high-art wunderkind is the wealth of awards and accolades that she has received.
Atop the list is a National Visual Arts Award that Kowch was granted from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (now the National YoungArts Foundation) in 2005, an honor that ranks recipients in the top 2 percent of American talent.
Kowch is one of a select group of artists shown at the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery in Sag Harbor and she is represented exclusively by Demato. Kowch’s Dan’s Papers cover painting “Light Keepers” is currently on view at the gallery and, though the original sold some time ago, prints of the work will soon be available for purchase. Kowch will likely show another of her works at the gallery’s late May exhibition, Transcendental Feminine Fantasy, and she will certainly be showcased at ArtHamptons—where her work has consistently sold out—in July.
Demato discovered Kowch about four years ago through an image of her work “No Turning Back,” printed in Spectrum #16: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, an annual publication that chooses artists via juried selection. The painting features a lone woman standing in a burning field of grain, with a derelict mansion in the background.
Demato says, “My birthday is on the 16th, and I’ve always found success via numerical association. She was teaching art at a local school in Michigan, and we recognized powerful raw talent and unique point of view. Her American Magic Realism and strong figurative perspective was exactly what we were seeking as our focus. We subsequently offered to enable her to paint full time, to pursue her passion. We all enjoy that for Andrea Kowch, and for us at the gallery, there is ‘no turning back!’”
Kowch now joins the pantheon of top artists featured on the cover of Dan’s. These include Chuck Close, Gahan Wilson and Peter Max, among others. Kowch’s reaction to her acrylic painting “Light Keepers” being featured on Dan’s Papers special Montauk issue was, “I wasn’t expecting it, it’s a wonderful surprise. I’m very excited and honored.”
The artist has taken in the natural environment of the East End during her visits here. She’s toured Montauk, and elements of Long Island landscape appear in some of her work. “Light Keepers,” however, is based on Kowch’s memories of Michigan summer nights “up north.” It’s her first large-scale (60 x 72 inches) night scene and is an attempt to capture the “eerie magic” of that part of Michigan after dark.
The basic concept of this painting was put on the back burner for about a year as she completed other projects. Once started, it took her three months to complete the work.
The seated figure in the foreground of “Light Keepers” is Kowch’s good friend, first model and the one with whom she most often works. The two grew up together in Michigan. Kowch employs a handful of models, friends, repeatedly in her work. They visit her studio, where she dresses them, poses them and takes many photographs for each composition. She has painted animal friends too, including her pet Lhasa Apso and birds.
Kowch says that her theme and style started in her last year of college, adding, “That’s when I found a niche, my personal path, vision.” She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BFA from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 2009.
In “Light Keepers,” thin, striking women are depicted interacting with nature. These “light keepers” wear a wide range of white garments from various eras. While there’s a timelessness about their dress, the Mason jars they employ to gather fireflies are of the “Golden Harvest” modern design, but tinted blue, harkening to an earlier age.
There’s a preponderance of redheads in Kowch’s work. The color is striking and may bring to mind Wyeth or the Pre-Raphaelites, or—at this time of year—they may appear Irish. Kowch says, “The redheads just kind of evolved as a compositional element. I gravitate toward earthy, monochromatic tones, [and this] always needs a little pop of color. [It complements] my love of painting pale, luminous skin.”
Much of Kowch’s work dwells upon scenes of domesticity. Her subjects are often engaged in household tasks or out in nature and sometimes both at the same time. But her paintings are not in the least limited to “the female sphere.” Quite the contrary — the stories that they tell, executed with masterful attention to detail, bristle with psychological power and shine with an inner light, magnifying universal experiences and emotions. Young women grimly making pie and absent-mindedly serving pie are shown in her paintings “The Visitors” (2010) and “An Invitation” (2013) respectively. Though not a baker herself, Kowch says, “My mother and grandmothers have all been fabulous cooks.” Her great grandmother’s table features prominently in some of her paintings. Kowch also collects many objects and pieces of vintage clothing for use in her visual storytelling.
Writings about Kowch’s work often invoke the word “madness.” But perhaps the topsy-turvy scenes she depicts are just manifestations of inner life writ large? Proposing to Kowch that the corollary question to “Is there madness in your work?,” would be “Is there real magic in your life?” she averred, “If you look beyond the everyday, there is magic in everything. I tend to be chaotic underneath in certain ways.”
Kowch is often guided by her emotions. She recently bought her first home and a common theme she has realized in her painting is that of being independent, of taking care of one’s self. The artist asserts that strength and growth come from “stepping outside of what you know.”
She began painting seriously at age 12 and “was always that kid who would be doing drawings, illustrating.” Kowch is a big fan of a good story. Among other influences, fairy tales, the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Maxfield Parrish’s work informed her childhood studies.
Kowch’s unique vision offers balance in an intricate, perhaps even crowded, cosmology. It’s at once complicated and simple, like caring for a baby. When Kowch asked how she would paint a child’s nursery, she says, “Something light, airy and happy.”