I am so excited to present my first interview of local artist, Kimberly Rowe! In many ways Kimberly is the catalyst to my own adventure into becoming an artist. We met through the credential program when we were both studying to be teachers. She was in art and I was in history so our paths didn't cross often. Afterwards I caught glimpses of her work on the web and I became intrigued. Knowing she was out there forging her path gave me the courage to start my own. Her studio was the first artist studio that I ever visited. It was inspiring and she was so warm and welcoming even though I kind of appeared out of nowhere! Her work is truly inspirational and her style and process resonates deeply with me. Everything Kimberly does is thoughtful, intelligent and passionate, including her interview. Her comments about being a woman artist are fascinating and she is so honest in sharing some really tough experiences. Kimberly's interview is filled with sage advice about process and inspiration and I highly recommend coming back to it and reading it several times! What an amazing first interview to launch this project!
Jasper’s Colorfall, Acrylic on Canvas, 18 x 24 inches, 2014
How would you describe your work?
Hmmmmm. . .Well, my work is non-objective and usually painting these days, but I do love to make installations as the spirit moves me.
My paintings tend to be acrylic on canvas or panel right now, but I have also made a lot of work with fabric and acrylic. And I have just added oil paint to two recent paintings, which is really exciting to me. (I am very sensitive to solvents and have steered clear of them since undergrad, which has been about fifteen years. I'm now exploring using oil without solvents in addition to acrylic.)
I am equally comfortable making small, medium, and large paintings, but I love to work big. My focus is on color and rhythm. I never know what a painting will look like until it unfolds. It's sort of like a dance or working a puzzle. I lay down marks or colors--often difficult colors--and I then have to respond, putting one foot in front of the other until I'm done.
I am a big believer in the idea that there are many possible endings in each painting. I sometimes pause and think I may have finished, but my tendency is to push forward, past a "nice" painting. I like quirky and raw. It's not that I don't take my paintings seriously, but I like to show my sense of humor. I want to (metaphorically) grab the viewer by the collar and shake a smile onto his or her face!
What mediums do you most frequently use?
I mostly use acrylic on canvas, because of the ease and quickness of the paint and the lightness of the substrate. But there are times when I need to use oil or fabric or something else to make a painting be what it needs to be, and sometimes a panel offers a slicker surface or the ability to do something that perhaps canvas doesn't offer. Also I do enjoy making work in non-traditional ways, and doing things like nailing unstretched fabric or canvas directly to a wall.
Describe your workspace.
My workspace is awesome! I rent a very large studio in an industrial building in Oakland, right at the crossroads of Berkeley and Emeryville. There are other artists who rent in the building, but it's a mixed space, where other kinds of businesses also reside. I love that I can drive there in about six minutes.
My studio's footprint is around a thousand square feet, but it also has a sort of catwalk on three sides of a second story. Part of that catwalk is a modestly finished loft and my friend rents that part from me and makes amazing sculpture there, while we use the rest for storage.
My walls are about ten feet high and painted white. I have no windows, but I do have skylights. I've got lots of full-spectrum lights clipped to one by twos that my husband helped me to run perpendicularly out above the walls.
If I Fell, Acrylic on Panel, 60 x 48 inches, 2014
I feel really safe in my studio and it has become my sanctuary. I have a little alcove in one corner where I have couch cushions and throw pillows and a little old-school stereo with two speakers that plays tapes, CDs, radio, and has an auxiliary output. I bought it at a thrift store for fifty dollars a few years ago and I love it! I play music and dance and paint and sing!
I usually have ten to twenty canvases of various shapes, sizes, and degrees of finish up at any given time. I have several tables and carts, mostly with wheels, holding plastic containers full of paint tubes, mediums, brushes, and other supplies. And I always have books, magazines, tea, sparkling water, and wine on my shelves.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you. Do you keep any routines? Are you a full time artist or do you have another job?
I am definitely a full-time artist. I used to be a high school art teacher and I sometimes teach through art school extension and community adult programs or, occasionally, privately. I also facilitate a critique group in my studio.
After grad school, where I earned my MFA in 2009, I went back to school to learn horticulture and aesthetic pruning. I did both for a couple of years. But I have been caring for my dad since I got out of grad school. About three and a half years ago, he began to need constant care, so my husband and I moved him to our house. Shortly thereafter, I stopped doing gardening. So that's when I really began logging more hours in the studio.
I don't have strict times and days that I work, because I have to keep flexible. So I aim for an attitude of "almost every day." I get up earlyish and meditate and try to get to the studio as early as I can. Sometimes that means I leave right away and, before my husband leaves for work, he makes sure that my dad is fed and has clean clothes laid out. Other times, I stick around the house and leave after my dad has showered or I've taken him to the Senior Center or to doctor appointments or whatever. Once in a while I go to the studio on the weekend, but I like to do things with my husband or he and my dad.
A couple of things that are sort of ritualistic are that I try to turn music on as soon as I can when I arrive at the studio, because it gets me out of my head and into a more open, organic mind space. And I try to leave with fresh water in buckets and something already going on a canvas or at least a prepped canvas on a wall, so that I can jump right in without letting myself get distracted when I next get to the studio.
The length of time that I stay at the studio varies. Sometimes I just go for a little while, look at my work, and think. Other times I think I am only going to stay for a couple of hours and I find myself still there hours and hours later, having not even taken a break. I used to think about how many hours it took to make something, but now I have no idea. Most of my time is spent with painting on my mind at some level. It isn’t a job, it’s who I am, and my life is my practice. (By the way, that sounds so cut and dried, like it was always that way, but the truth is that I cultivated the idea that I am an artist; I chose it. So can others.)
Candyland, Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 48 inches, 2015
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
When I was first trying to figure out what to do as a painter, I was really lucky to have gotten into a residency called Painting's Edge. I was in my first year of grad school and making sculpture and installation and doing conceptual work, but desperately wanted to paint. I don't even really know how I got into the residency, but I went there, to Idyllwild, and made these crazy conceptual drawings by putting paper into big Sonotubes and throwing in drawing materials and odds and ends that would make marks. Then I sealed them. The heat was intense there, but I rolled these tubes up and down those desert mountains and then showed the marked-up paper pieces as drawings.
There was a visiting artist named Jill Geigerich there who told me that if I wanted to figure out what it was that I wanted to make I should go to the library and pull books that spoke to me and use the images in those books to inspire me. I tried to do that but it was hard to know what to pull when I didn't know which books to look through.
Imagine that it's only been seven years since then, yet we have fast-forwarded so much that we can easily flip through the Internet on a cell phone and find millions of images in a split second now! So, essentially, one of the ways that I find inspiration is by doing a modified version of what Jill suggested to me back then.
I am always studying. I look through gallery websites and Facebook and. . .and. . .and. . .you name it! I may see a painting that I feel connected to in an art magazine and I look up the artist and that leads me to more and more and more. I also go to galleries and museums very often and I go to New York several times a year, plus Los Angeles once or twice a year. I network constantly, too. But mostly I study every nuance of work that I like (in person if possible) and teach myself how to do what I like, as well as to recognize and avoid what I don’t, and let those things seep in.
What’s some good advice you got that you would like to share with other artists?
One piece of advice that I was given a long time ago, which is not specific to art, is to surround myself with people who are like what I want to be. I seek out those people who are great. I listen to them, look at what they do, read about them, and ask them for advice or at least tell them how much I appreciate them. I don't mean bother or badger people, of course. But in this day and age, especially, we have so many opportunities to learn from the best. I make it my job to show up, take note, and go the extra mile. I am so grateful to know and often be able to call “friend” those people whose work I admire. I imagine myself at their level and I work to make it happen.
What are your thoughts about being a woman and an artist? How does it inform your work, if it does?
Wow, being a woman and an artist, isn't that the coolest thing ever? I mean, I know that the art world or the world in general hasn't always supported women or treated them as equal to men, but that is precisely what makes it so amazing for me to be able to say that I am an artist in spite of that and to put myself out there right now in this moment.
It's not that women weren't already doing it. Every art class that I have ever been in or taught in my life has had more females than men in it. Many times there were no men at all.
I think many of the best artists showing now are women. I look around and see incredibly strong and talented women making amazing work. It seems to me that, currently, there are huge amounts of edgy, innovative, and challenging paintings, sculptures, installations, performances, photos, films, videos, sound pieces, conceptual works, and all sorts of hybrids being made, shown, and acknowledged that are by women. And there seem to be a lot of women curating shows, owning galleries, and putting together collectives.
I think we are on the precipice of change in every area of humanity. We are so fortunate to be among those building up toward a critical mass. It's palpable.
Still, when I was in my first year of grad school, in the winter of 2007, I came face to face with two prejudices: sexism and ageism. For my mid-year review, I made an installation using fabric. One of the professors reviewing the work told me in front of everyone that I should seriously consider not using fabric because I was running the risk of being pigeonholed as just a middle-aged feminist artist. I was shocked. I wasn't even old enough to be middle-aged, yet I was already supposed to be preparing for my fate of being judged for aging and ashamed of being a feminist and a woman.
Little did that person know that the art world was on the verge of being reinvigorated by all sorts of high-low applications of media and content, by both men and women. I was doing something innovative, but that person was shortsighted and tried to knock the wind out of my sails. We women have some major assets, including gifts of intuition, invention, and resilience. And, thankfully, I picked myself up and re-committed myself in spite of what I was told.
I see myself as a strong woman who is an artist. But I am a strong woman first and that makes me a good candidate for being an artist. I look around and see that some of the most interesting artists today are mature women. Look at Mary Heilmann, Joan Snyder, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold, Carrie Mae Weems, Joan Jonas, Bridget Riley, Joanne Greenbaum, Polly Apfelbaum, Andrea Frazer, Suzan Frecon, Pipilotti Rist, Michelle Grabner, Laurie Anderson, Yayoi Kusama, Janet Cardiff, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Jo Baer, Sherrie Levine, Amy Sillman, Lee Bontecou, Ida Applebroog, Mona Hatoum, Mary Corse, Susan Hiller, Etel Adnan, Suzanne Lacy, Lorna Simpson, Jacqueline Humphries, Sophie Calle, Marlene Dumas, Marina Abramovic, Lorraine O'Grady, Rebecca Horn, Beatriz Milhazes, Marilyn Minter, Vija Celmins, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Marlene Dumas, Susan Rothenberg, Rineke Dijkstra, Cindy Sherman, Betye Saar, Chantal Akerman, Renee Green, Huma Bhabha, RH Quaytman, Tracey Emin, Sue Williams, Anna Maria Maiolino, Sarah Lucas, Yin Xiezhen, Zilia Sanchez, Mary Weatherford, Laurie Simmons, Cristina Vergano, Yeesookyung, Louise Fishman, Sheila Hicks, Julie Ault, Charline von Heyl, Suzanne McClelland, Dona Nelson, Sati Zech, (I would include Ellen Gallagher, Thelma Golden and Kara Walker, but they aren't even fifty yet). This list is random, in no particular order, and incredibly short. It is just a small example of contemporary female artists over fifty who come after so many other vital, productive, powerful, and mature artists who were also women.
Still, even today, most female artists do not make as much money, per an equal volume of sales, as male artists. So that is something that continues to be a big issue.
Over all, we must consider this: regardless of anything else, whether it has to do with gender, age, ethnicity, or any other thing, artists in general have many detractors, period. The truth is that artists are critical to the health of the human experience and yet art is not valued nearly as much as it should be.
In regard to my own practice, people may notice that a lot of my older work includes fabric, and that even though my more recent work doesn't actually have textiles in it, oftentimes they are still referenced.
I come from a matrilineage of makers. In the late forties, when my mother was a young girl, my grandmother and grandfather took their family from Akron to Miami to start a (short-lived) clothing label for which my grandmother designed and made beautiful dresses, skirts, blouses, and jackets. For the rest of their lives, both my grandmother and mom often bought used clothing, took apart and reworked it, or sewed with new fabric, to make clothes for themselves and me. My great-grandmother taught me to crochet, my mom taught me to use a sewing machine, and I also took sewing and stitchery in junior high. Making with thread, yarn, and fabric comes naturally to me, so when I first became serious about developing my art practice, it served me both conceptually and formally.
Is there anything about the Bay Area that is especially beneficial or not so beneficial to artists? Any Bay Area artists that you follow or admire?
There are many advantages to being an artist in the Bay Area. For instance, my husband and I own a house. The company that he works for is about five or six minutes away, as is my studio. We have temperate weather, lots of varying terrain, social, and cultural things to do, great restaurants, nearby family and friends, and an art "scene." But, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be as vital of a collector base in the Bay Area as in Los Angeles or New York. And it is often said to be "provincial" here. Of course, that’s up for debate, but the current consensus is that sometimes it seems like edgier work isn't always revered here. Plus, with the influx of "new money" from tech companies and venture capitalists, there doesn’t seem to be as much appreciation for high art, in general, that there is in other major cities. A lot of galleries have been pushed out of downtown San Francisco, and the art community has been forced to reinvent itself.
One of the ways for us to do that is for artists to take more control of our own careers. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that I would love to be represented by a great gallery and sell out every show. Until that happens, and probably even after, I will be networking and applying myself toward showing my artwork, as well as developing my skill and evolving vision.
Currently, I am thrilled to be one of the artists in the inaugural edition of the San Francisco stARTup Art Fair, at the Hotel del Sol, May 1-3. It’s such an amazing opportunity, because the founders, Steve Zavattero and Ray Beldner, have so much experience in the Bay Area art community and are really putting their all into this. They recognized that there are many undersupported artists here and created a way for vetted artists to put their resources together to establish a platform for us to show our work, and to have them supporting us by overseeing the business end. It’s a pretty democratic way of doing things. And we get to keep all of our sales, in contrast to showing through a gallery. It’s a sweet opportunity. I hope your readers will come to the fair and say, “Hello!”
I appreciate where I am for so many reasons. But, I am crazy for New York, and go there at least a couple of times a year to see exhibitions and network. When I am there, I love having the ability to fairly easily see unfathomable amounts of art, get to develop friendships and collegial relationships with high caliber artists, potentially be exposed to a large and serious collector base, and be able to walk and go by subway to almost anywhere I need to in a relatively short time. Being immersed in a cultural Mecca that goes far beyond visual art, makes New York a place that is difficult not to want to be a part of. Still, there are some exceptional galleries, museums, residencies, and artists, as well as some insightful and faithful collectors in the Bay Area that, although we aren’t the biggest art community, make it worthwhile to be here. So I am getting the best of both worlds.
Just a few of the Bay Area people who I would recommend Googling are Griff Williams, Kirk Stoller, and Tucker Nichols. Griff owns Gallery 16, curates some exemplary shows, and is a huge supporter of the arts, Kirk makes super interesting, edgy sculpture and curates excellent shows in his apartment gallery, called c2c, bringing together East and West Coast artists in exciting exhibitions with challenging work, and Tucker makes whimsical and poignant paintings and drawings, installations and sculptures, by which I dare you not to be charmed. Some of the many other excellent local community art assets to look up include Second Floor Projects, Some Walls, Aggregate Space, KALA, Headlands Center for the Arts, Root Division, Pro Arts, ArtSpan, and so many others—one will lead to another, so be sure to put your feelers out.
Who are you reading, looking at or listening to these days?
I am always looking at artwork, especially paintings, online. Maybe I’ll see someone on Facebook, or some work in a gallery or in an art magazine, or hear someone talk about an artist, and I will look them up via Google and the next thing I know I have looked at the artist’s work and that of five or ten or twenty others by way of following threads. It may be that I'll go to the artist’s gallery's website and look at all of the artists whose work is represented by it, or I will find an article which points to another article, and so on. Or I look at things like Instagram or Artstack.
I subscribe to or pick up at bookstores all of the major contemporary art magazines every month, and I look for obscure ones in more avant-garde bookstores, newsstands, and museum stores. I also subscribe to art blogs; for instance, Painters' Table is a little like a clearing house in that it links me to other blogs like Gorky's Granddaughter, Structure and Imagery, Gallery Travels, Curating Contemporary, Painter's Progress, Two Coats of Paint, Just Another Painter, Ahtcast (blog and podcast), Studio Critical, Mockingbird, Articiple, and many more. Additionally, I subscribe to gallery newsletters as well as updates from calls for entry and residency sites. Plus I try to regularly read the art sections of at least the Friday and Sunday New York Times, the Saturday art section and the Sunday "Pink Section" of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the art section of New York Magazine, which often includes an article or review by Jerry Saltz.
I like reading monographs, biographies, and memoirs. I just found an obscure one by Tracey Emin called My Life in a Column.
Sometimes I look at art videos on YouTube. Today I watched a couple of short ones by a painter named Simon Carter, of whom I had not previously heard. He turned out to be a really good painter and I loved watching him work. I also love Art 21. I watched the segment on Robert Ryman (Paradox) maybe, like, twenty-five or more times in the spring of 2009. I was so inspired by him. He may have saved me from failing grad school! I felt like Ryman gave me permission to not feel like I had to figure it all out and that liberated me.
I like to listen to audiobooks but I tend to avoid them while painting. I want to slightly distract myself so that I am not overthinking, but I don't want to feel like I have to strain to catch every word and digest all of each story’s nuances. However, I sometimes make an exception with David Sedaris, because he is totally hilarious, and laughter makes great paintings! Otherwise, I like to listen to whole albums, or find new musical artists or rediscover old ones by picking a station on Pandora and letting it spin into obscure territory, or I find a radio station in someplace like Berlin, through TuneIn Radio.
I made my last series listening mostly to the entire compilation of Beatles albums, which I had, believe it or not, never listened to before. Other series have been made while listening to bands like Green Day, White Stripes, and Led Zeppelin. Not long ago I found out that I love Jimi Hendrix. This time around I have mostly listened to my James Brown Station. I’ve really been into it. But the other day a friend played this crazy German album, and I think it's going to be great for painting, so I immediately bought it through iTunes: Die Grüne Reise--The Green Journey. I highly recommend it!
Any final words or thoughts or upcoming projects that you would like to share? What are you working on these days?
I would like my take-away to be to encourage your readers to consider developing a painting practice. It is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. It is an intellectual and meditative pursuit. It is a challenge and a joy. I recommend taking classes if possible and to go to see work in person whenever one can.
So far I know of three upcoming exhibitions in which I am participating:
The stARTup Art Fair, at the Hotel del Sol in San Francisco, May 1-3
I am very excited that I will have a big suite with lots of my work hanging on the walls. It is the inaugural edition of this fair, so please be sure to come.
Pro Arts East Bay Open Studios, at Lowell Street Studios, 6050 Lowell St., #102, Oakland, June 6 & 7 (I’m doing only that first weekend.)
I am working like crazy to have lots of work available for all three of these events. I just made three big paintings last week that took a new turn, so I'm very interested to see what unfolds. None of my new work is up on my website yet, but please keep your eyes peeled (www.kimberlyrowe.net). In the meantime, there is a lot of work made from about 2009 through last summer (2014) that is up now. Stay tuned; a ton of recent work should start appearing over the next month or so.
Thank you very much, Nancy, for inviting me to do this interview. It was a blast!
Location: Oakland, CA