graphite drawing of an old house
Carol Rowan (b. 1960), "Owl’s House," 2011, graphite on paper, 28 x 41 in., collection of Dr. Philip Bahnson, Washington, D.C.

Graphite Drawing as a Necessity > If you overlook (as if you could) the vigor of her technique, the drawings of Carol Rowan (b. 1960) might suggest a placid kind of enterprise, a sort of plein air ease that just happens to result in these almost crystalline renderings of the world. But from the start of her career, the Connecticut-raised, Pratt Institute-educated artist has been all business.

One to Watch: Carol Rowan

By Thomas Connors

“I was completely broke when I got out of school. Then I had a baby and I couldn’t afford a tube of dioxazine purple. All I could afford were pencils and paper, but I didn’t need anything else. I was an artist and I was going to steer my own course.”

For more than 20 years, drawing has been Rowan’s focus, and her work has been exhibited at a number of venues, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and National Museum of Women in the Arts (both in Washington, D.C.), Hollis Taggart (New York City), and Vose Contemporary (Boston).

As demanding of herself as ever (she works eight hours a day, seven days a week), Rowan speaks frankly of her experience in the studio. “I can make 100 drawings and maybe 10 of them will be worthwhile. One or two will really sing. I was a cellist when I was younger, so I am interested in vibration; getting a piece to vibrate, to come alive, is really challenging. If I can get the piece to come alive, then I’m satisfied, but that’s difficult and doesn’t happen very often.”

Long based in Washington, D.C., Rowan has had a studio in Maine since 2005 and now spends more and more time there. “The light is great, the water is rough, the people are rugged, and all of that has given me a of sense of freedom,” she shares. “I feel very relaxed when I’m in Maine. And I’m not a relaxed person.”

Her surroundings have led, as well, to a new ambition. “I drew for a really long time, and now I want to focus more on painting. And not just realistic paintings. I love geometric forms. I’m still interested in having a foundation of realism in my work, but that doesn’t have to be the only thing anymore.”

For someone who seems never to have doubted her calling, Rowan admits she is still negotiating her way through oil and gouache. “At first, I got overwhelmed with color, so I had to slow it down, and I’ve come around to working a lot simpler with earth tones. I feel more secure now. I would like to have 10 solid years of just painting in oil, so I could learn it,” she says. “But time is clicking by. I can’t always be learning and learning and learning. I want to be achieving something.”

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine (July/August 2020).

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