Honoring The Artist: Tory Cowles Talks About Art And Life

This week’s cover by Tory Cowles is an abstract image that begs to be experienced more closely. There’s something about the colors and movement that engages us, allowing us to enter the space as if we were actually in the middle of the picture plane.

Other paintings by Cowles are even more colorful, although still abstract. If we study them for a while, the shapes begin to come together, looking like the inside of a room, perhaps a living room; we begin to see furniture and accessories emerging. Which makes sense, since Cowles was an interior designer. We can also see how the artist’s penchant for three-dimensionality contributes to this effect.

Q: What’s your background like, besides your interior design experience?

A: My father was an architect, and I did architecture design. I went to Bennington College and studied sociology, then switched to progressive education based on the teachings of John Dewey. After I graduated, I went to work at the National Institute of Education and worked in Career Education, which gives students “hands-on” experience in elementary school.

Q: I’m all for that approach since my son went to a school like that. How did you transition from education into art?

A: I left the National Institute of Education and became an apprentice carpenter in Washington for two years. I bought a bungalow in the Palisades area where I could apply my skills.

Q: I know that location well. It’s really beautiful there. Do friends today ask you to help them with building projects because of your carpentry background?

A: That takes time. I started to do my own deck, but I wouldn’t have had time to paint if I had done it.

Q: How is carpentry and art related as far as your own work? Carpentry must have structure. How about your paintings?

A: I have structure in my paintings, too. But, I also have spontaneity; some pieces are looser than others. I am interested in the balance between spontaneity and structure.

Q: How do you create that spontaneous quality?

A: I can’t intellectualize about it. If I analyze it too much, it doesn’t work.

Q: What meaning does spontaneity have in your paintings and /or your life?

A: Most of us try to place order on our life. Being spontaneous is hard, and it’s hard to make it work. Letting go of control is difficult

Q: Besides that balance between control and less control, what other aesthetic quality is important to you?

A: Color is most important. Bright colors make me happy. But I like bold colors and subtly as well

Q: There’s the notion of balance again. What artists have influenced you?

A: Robert Rauschenberg and his “ Combines” and Jean – Michel Basquiat. I did an interactive painting inspired by Rauschenberg’s “Combines.” When I see their paintings, my life is fuller. Their paintings make me sing and dance. I can live my life more fully.

Q: And how about your own paintings? How do they make you feel?

A: They make me feel alive.


Tory Cowles will be exhibiting her work (along with Annemarie Feld) at Sag Harbor’s Romany Kramoris Gallery (41 Main St.) from May 18 – June 17. Call 631-725-2499 for more information.

The artist’s works can be seen at her studio at the Torpedo Factory (105 North Union Street, Studio #7, Alexandria, Va.) Call 240-793-5425.

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