Today we’d like to introduce you to Eileen Cowin.
Eileen, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was born and raised in NY. When I was in the 2nd grade, I drew a farm scene even though I had never seen a farm. When the teacher told my parents I had “talent” and hung the picture on the wall, I kept drawing farm scenes for quite a while. After that, I was usually the “class artist”. (although I stopped drawing farm scenes after the 2nd grade). It never occurred to me I would do anything but art. My parents were also very encouraging which might have been unusual at the time. I was an art major at SUNY New Paltz. At the first critique in my drawing class, I realized that everyone in the class was also the class artist at their high school and I needed to do something to differentiate myself. I wasn’t a very good painter so I majored in drawing and printmaking. My printmaking teacher, Bob Schuler, was an important influence. He worked in all media: painting, printmaking sculpture and performance. It was the 60s and things were becoming much more open. I don’t think I would be the artist I am today if I had not worked with him. My college boyfriend was very involved with photography. He told me it was too technical and I would never be able to master it. After we broke up, I took my first photography class. I have been working in this medium for over 50 years. When I started making photographs, I combined them with other mediums: drawing, printmaking, sculpture but when I got to graduate school, my instructors, Aaron Siskind and Arthur Segal, were more traditional. I didn’t feel I belonged, as a woman or as an artist. It was a good experience for me, although I didn’t think so at the time and I spent two years in an “I’ll show them” mode. Over the years, I have expanded my practice to include video, installation and public art.
I taught to support my work, first at Franconia College in New Hampshire and then at Cal State Fullerton. I used to say Michelangelo had the Pope and I had CSUF. I was there for 33 years before I retired in 2008. My work is in over 50 collections and has been shown nationally and internationally.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I work with photographic images, video and installations. I am interested in the nature of narrative and the relationship between fiction and nonfiction. I investigate ideas about chance, fate, memory and experience. I try to blur the boundaries between the still and moving image. I am interested in subverting the structure of a piece by including contradictory scenes and a somewhat mangled narrative. Jean Luc Goddard said: “film had a beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order”. My work ranges from intimate pieces to large scale works that look like film strips. The videos can be single channel narrative pieces or multi-channel installations. I often use this quote from Immortality by Milan Kundera to describe what I do: Episodes are like landmines. The majority of them never explode, but the most unremarkable of them may turn unto a story that will prove fateful to you.
I want the work to be beautiful enough to seduce the viewer but edgy enough to keep them looking. I am not an “in your face artist”; I am more of an “under your skin artist” and I am currently exploring the current climate of anxiety, loss and rage.
What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
You can’t look at one model. There was once an artist who only worked during his two-week vacation and his photographs are in most history of photography books. Years ago, an artist friend once said: “sometimes I’m running with the pack and sometimes I’m not, but I just keep doing the work”. It is disappointing museums are now doing a big push to show women artists who are over 90 when they should have been exhibiting in these museums all along. Hopefully most people don’t have to wait until they are 90 years old to be recognized! And finally, you have to need to do it otherwise there are so many things that could derail you.
As for lessons- I thought I developed a thick skin but I should have built up another layer or two.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I have a website and I update it once a year. If anyone is interested in the work, they can contact me through the website. I have also been doing public art projects. In 2020, I will have a temporary piece at the Los Angeles International Airport and my first permanent piece at the Martin Luther King Jr. Metro Station. I have a selection of photographs in Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography opening at The Getty Center on March 12th. I will also be exhibiting at the as-is gallery sometime in 2019 and again in 2020.
- Address: 2118 Wilshire Blvd. #651 Santa Monica, CA 90403
- Website: www.eileencowin.com
- Phone: 310.390-8242
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @eileencowin
Photography of Eileen by Mark Alice Durant. Photographs of LAX installation courtesy of LAWA.