When Rowan Bathurst learned how to paint, it felt almost as natural as breathing. Fascinated with archeology, & history, and inspired by prehistoric figurines & feminism, Rowan’s paintings talk about our innate connection to the earth and invite us to treasure the history we carry within.
A couple of months ago, Rowan and I met via Zoom to talk about her series “Girl, Woman, Warrior”, painting in the flow state and the power of beauty to escape fast paced modern life. Enjoy!
Hi Rowan, thanks a lot for taking the time to speak to me today. For people who don’t know you: who are you and how did you get into art?
My name is Rowan Bathurst, I am a painter based in Baltimore, Maryland. I started painting when I was around 16 or 17 years old, which is 10 years ago now. I went to a very strict Catholic school as a child, and we didn’t have an art class, so I didn’t know anything about drawing or art, I didn’t even dip my toes into it. Then I went to public high school, I took an art class in my sophomore year. When I learned how to paint it was something so natural for me and it kind of just skyrocketed from there. It was the first thing I was actually excited about- I wasn’t the best student and studying wasn’t my thing, I wasn’t very good at English or Math or any other of these subjects, so when I found painting it was such a natural love for me and it went on from there. After high school, I couldn’t afford to go to a private art college, so I went to community college, which was was great. They had an awesome art program about art history, as well as photography and sculpture. After three years at the community college I transferred to Maryland Institute College of Art and I finished my degree in painting and art history there.
In your bio you mention that you’re inspired by “feminism, archaeological pieces and our innate connection to the earth.” How did these interests arise?
In school I was always drawn to old architecture, cave drawings and figurines. I think there was a spark that came to me when I learned about that. The artist Ana Mendieta was also a huge inspiration for me. She incorporated the body into her works, mostly in nature to describe that the earth and the body are one. That inspired me when I was about 20 years old and I’ve been into figurines since then.
I really love to travel as well and learn about histories of other countries, about how old the earth is, it can be so fascinating to me. Nowadays we always think about the future, now things are moving so fast, and we forget how much time has been behind us and how far we, as humans, have come to be here in this moment. We have all these ancestors, generations and generations that got us here today, and I find that such a beautiful thought. It gives more purpose to life in my opinion.
The history and artefacts that we have left behind gives us a small window into what the world was like back then, to me is really a mind-blowing idea.
I’d like to talk about your series “Girl, Woman, Warrior”, can you tell me a bit more about it?
Absolutely. So, the warrior series was inspired a lot by my mum who did mixed martial arts. She would do that for fun and she also does kickboxing. Sometimes when growing up, I felt she was like the scary parent (laughs). My Dad is a gentle soul and kind while my mum was the one who was so tough to us. I grew up watching her being so strong, opinionated, have so much discipline in her life, and not giving any mind about what people would say to her. She would get comments that she was too short or that her body was too muscular…women get so much comments on anything they do, however they look, and it’s exhausting. I always think, what if it was a man? Would they encourage him instead? I think with women, we always get looked at through a critical or perfectionist lens.
But anyway, I would be with my mum when she would do fitness competitions, watching her do all these crazy poses during a show. I thought to myself that she looked absolutely amazing, so strong and confident. And I was also really inspired by how she raised my brother and I, being a different type of mother than what movies would show and continuing her passions up until a couple of years ago. So, she’s been a big part of the inspiration for the warriors. But I see warriors in everyday life, too. I was looking at warriors in a different way. You know, warriors can be people who simply make it through the day. Women go through so much struggle, we have built a resistance to it. It might be a cat call or getting treated differently at work, and you’re still choosing to continue. Those are battles we all fight with ourselves.
I think it’s an understood thing among women that we go through this but it is ultimately something that you deal with and you learn how to be stronger on your own. I think that is really inspiring.
In your statement you write in regards to the Venuses, “Some art historians theorize that the unusual rounded forms are reflective of a female artist looking down at herself and sculpting a self-portrait. Though separated by thousands of years, I feel there is a connection to those female artists and the lives they lived.” Do you feel that in some way painting the warrior series was also creating a sort of self-portrait?
Now in a different way, I’m choosing to really paint what I love and am drawn to. I love to work out, I love to run and feel strong, I think in some way all of these paintings have a little bit of me in them. I use them as a representation of a starting point, a signal. This is where we all came from. We still have this power within us, it can be signified through a Goddess figurine or as a warrior or deity, as something to worship. But in the end it is yourself, And it’s acting as a little reminder to not forget that.
Tell me a bit about your creative process, from an idea to a finished piece.
A lot of my ideas come to me when I’m running or listening to music, I have 10 ideas at the same time, and I scribble them out or jot down notes. I usually put 5 to 7 canvases on the wall at once, then I map them out. I spend a lot of time planning the composition for the paintings and I try to have a theme. Lately, I’ve been doing photoshoots with my friends to use as reference for my work. I try to keep my series separated to keep them a little organized as things go. So, I cut the canvas, I draw on it, and plan everything out which takes the longest part actually. I do a first background layer, like a coloured wash over the canvas to get the base colours. And then, I usually would spend time on one canvas until I finish, then I’d go to the next one. But there’s always many things going on at the same time.
Would you like to share with me what you’re currently working on?
Yeah, so these ones, I don’t know if you see them in the back (Rowan points to the paintings behind her), they are a bit smaller than the paintings that I’ve worked on within the past year. These ones are more intimate and about solitude. There’s a figure who is in warm red light. It’s supposed to be portraying moments you share with yourself, solitary, but the Venuses subtly appear, almost as a ghost since they do not cast shadows, acting as a reminder of your history or as a guardian angel.
No matter how alone you feel, you still have all of this history, even though you don’t remember or know any of it. Your ancestors are with you and have brought you here.
When looking at the paintings from the warrior series, my personal impression is that many of the women stand alone, fighting their own battles, even when they stand in pairs. Was that something that you planned out intentionally or did that just happen while painting?
At first, for those warrior paintings, I wanted to play out some visual ideas and the composition, I didn’t think too much about it. I wanted to show women fighters looking at the viewer against a very bold background. I started photographing my friends boxing, then it became more intentional, for example, okay, there are two female figures but these figures are confronting the viewers together.
I wanted the figures to look directly at the viewer, playing with the idea of the “male gaze”. When you see a woman confronting you with a stronger gaze back at you.
Another thing that you wrote about your work and this series is that both, power and beauty, exist inside of us. Related to visual arts I wanted to ask you if you believe that beauty – the beauty that an artwork might be able to radiate- has the power to evoke change?
I believe it can. I believe beauty can trigger a change, it has to me as an observer. I’ve seen paintings where something has been so beautiful that it has made me cry and given me goosebumps. I think pieces that stick with you are few and far between, it’s not the most common thing. For example, there are two that actually made me feel very moved just through beauty alone. One of them was Amoako Boafo, the way he puts oil on the canvas and how the figures feel alive. Seeing it in person for the first time was so intimate, it felt so personal and raw. It’s something that really moved me and stuck with me. So, I think that art definitely has the power to do that, just through beauty.
We move around through life so fast and have so many things to do, we can just get caught up in life quickly. When something is beautiful, it catches your eye and it makes you pause and reflect. We’re drawn to it for a reason.
On your website you write “Red is the mark of power, passion, anger, and love”. Talking more in terms of visual art, what would you say is your power or passion?
You know, people talk about the flow state when you are so focused on something, your mind just turns off and everything becomes automatic. And I feel that way when painting. Hours can pass by and I don’t think of anything, and I don’t listen to music or even eat.
I can paint through the afternoon, the night, so on, and that is, I would say, my power. Tapping into the body and dropping into the present moment through the act of painting.
Any advice for fellow emerging artists that you’d like to share?
I would say, keep doing whatever you’re doing. There is no rush for having a solo show or for having your work bringing in a lot of money, there is no rush for any of that. I think the most important lesson that I learned is to just make the art that you want and that you want to see and that you’re happy with. Do it because you love it.
This is your world, this is your art, you don’t have to change for anybody.
Through social media it’s easy to see the other people succeeding really fast, it can seem like a hardcore race, but it doesn’t have to be that. There is a whole world outside of social media. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
And last question: what are your hopes for the future?
My personal hope is to experiment a little bit more with video and performance art. I have done a couple of murals and I would love to do a huge mural one day. Something like 20 stories tall, something insanely big- these are my immediate hopes. As far as broader spectrum hopes, I hope that we all can slow down a little bit more. I’m not anti-technology but I do try to stay away from it. The day to day is important, cherishing friendships and families is important, too.
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Written, interviewed & edited by Nina Seidel
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