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Eileen Cowin



To be posted...



by Erika Wasonoredjo

Bright and early in the morning, Eileen Cowin is in her California home packing for her flight to New York—her very first home. Cowin, originally from New York City, is an accomplished artist who graduated from SUNY New Paltz in the ’70s. She has spent years concentrating in photography and videography. Known for her narrative style of composing art, Cowin’s work draws inspiration from storytelling and exploring relationships. She is one of the artists featured in the Golden Age of New Paltz exhibit.


When did you realize your passion for art?

When I was in the second grade I drew a farm scene even though I’d never seen a farm. But my teacher called my parents and told them I had talent, so I kept drawing farm scenes. I kept getting praise from teachers about my artwork and I gravitated towards it.”


How did living in New Paltz affect your art in the ’70s?

It was a very freeing environment. I was exposed to many different types of work. I had one teacher for drawing, Harry Hurwitz, and one day the model didn’t show up so we had to take turns getting up on the platform to model. He would say, “Eileen, you draw Berta’s style; Gary, you draw Eileen’s style.” He kept trying to challenge us—get us out of our comfort zone.”


How is the “Golden Age of New Paltz” different from other art periods?

I think of it as a time period that reflected what was happening in the culture. My sculpture teacher was the only female studio teacher I had. Having a female teacher was radical and meaningful for me. I never felt at the time that I was treated less than because I was a woman. New Paltz was an oasis for me where we were all treated like artists.


What were your inspirations during the Golden Age?

My main inspiration was [Professor] Robert Schuler. I would not be the artist I am today without him. He would take us to the city and we were exposed to new art and performances. It was revolutionary. He treated us like adults, not students. He was very unconventional. I remember just sleeping on the table all night in the printmaking studio. I wanted to be around there all the time. Sometimes he would walk in the room, jump up on the table and start dancing. It was never what you expected.


Why do you have recurring themes in your work?

I just finished a series called Mad Love which was a continuation of my interest in relationships... but not relationships in the conventional sense. Relationships between the familiar and the unknowable, cause and effect and fiction and non-fiction. I think that when you look at any artist’s work there is always a thread. I never figure it out so I keep working on it and pushing through.


How do you approach your mediums differently?

“I actually approach them in the same way. I love working with narrative. In my next life I’d like to be a writer. I like narrative in an open ended way, not linear. The filmmaker Jean Luc Godard said that every story should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order. I typically use a collision of images that don’t always seem to go together but unravel in an interesting way.


What do you hope for people to take away from your art?

First, I want to make the work visually compelling so it is seductive. Then I hope it is compelling enough to keep them there. You start to look at the piece and see different things. There are many questions, not one answer.


How have your pieces changed over the years?

“I put images together to make a narrative and I’ve been doing that since New Paltz. In the late ’60s  and ’70s I took photographs and put them on transparency material; I then combined them with images of the Vietnam War from magazines. I’ve always been political in a subtle way. Right now I’m trying to respond to our culture of anger and anxiety. I think of it like a series of doors, like in a game show. There is the climate change door and the immigration door and the race door. I have to decide which one to open.


What are you working on now? 

I just did a three-channel video piece. I arranged them like three short stories. The first piece was based on the shortest science fiction story ever written. The second piece was about immigration. The third piece was about fear, although they all had an element of fear. I’ve been reading post-apocalyptic stories. I just re-read “Brave New World” and “1984” trying to channel those things into my work.

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