Andrew Gow is an art history and practice major who, in February, had works shown in the Greenwich Academy in Greenwich, Connecticut. At that show, which lasted a month, over a third of the works he displayed were purchased. His work has also been exhibited at solo and group exhibits in the Spencer Art building, including his selection to participate in a show for prospective studio art majors. Next year, he will be studying classical painting in Florence, Italy.
How would you characterize your work? What is it that you’re doing with your art?
I feel that what it is that I’m doing with each piece of work is very important, and each piece of work that I do is very important to me. I know there are certainly some people that do care very, very intensely about what it is they’re doing. But I feel that there are some people that don’t attach the same value to their work as I do, and I think that because of that, they’re perhaps better off and can adapt and progress more easily as artists because each work, they’re doing it, and moving on.
But for me, what I want my art to be is some sort of – and this is going to sound sort of cheesy, especially with the way the art world has progressed in the 20th century – I want my work to be some sort of spiritual experience. Reminiscent of Kandinsky, and whatever, you think, “that was the turn of the century, you’ve got to get over that now, you’ve got to deal with modern issues, you can’t deal with the spiritual thing, what a jerk, painting’s dead, blah blah blah.” People declared that painting was dead at the beginning of the century, and it’s still not dead. I really want my art – yes, there’s a conceptual base to it, but I’d rather my art moved you in a sort of visceral way than in a cerebral way. I’d rather you looked at my art and felt something than looked at my art and thought something. That’s what I want from my art.
Who is your audience with each work of art?
I think my audience is me, and then there’s everyone else. I’d say that each work is certainly about something. Yes, there are throwaway works; you have to do them or else you’d knock yourself senseless trying to come up with ideas, but I think there’s me and I know what the work is about, and then there’s the audience, and I don’t necessarily want to tell them what it’s about. I want them to, like I was saying earlier, to feel what it’s about. I want them to understand what I feel about what it is I’m trying to portray. So not that they understand, “Oh, he had this in mind when making this,” but rather, “Oh, he had this feeling he’s trying to portray.”
It’s really easy to get across something that’s conceptual. You can look at a work and see how it was made, or what political message it’s trying to get across. But how do you deal with the diversity of ways that people express emotions, take emotions in, relate to each other? You’re trying to convey something that’s so different for each person.
That’s true. I go about it with the mediums I understand best, and can manipulate the easiest. In terms of how to communicate with people, and how people are going to understand my work, it’s certainly a leap of faith that everyone is somewhat similar and susceptible to the same sort of provocations, the same sort of atmospheric settings. My work is more or less abstract, and when it’s not abstract it has figurative elements. I’ve been doing some sort of still life elements in my work as well, but there’s no landscape, there’s no tangible interior room.
So I create the atmosphere abstractly, but what I try to get after is that in the same way that a gloomy day, or weather that’s stormy and dark and overcast makes people, in general, depressed, I want to apply the same sort of rules to my art. The same sort of rules of atmosphere. You can generalize, I think, the way people are influenced by certain environments to feel certain things or to provoke certain emotions. And going on that, that’s how I try to influence my audience – through atmosphere, through use of color, and light and dark, and juxtaposition of shapes.
Does that mean that your work is timeless?
I think it’s every artist’s wish to create work that’s timeless – although no, maybe not, maybe not. It’s certainly my wish to create work that’s timeless. If you can do that, that’s the mark of a great artist. Someone like Rembrandt, you can still understand the emotions in his paintings, and he was painting 400 years ago.
Now that you’re going to be entering the professional world, where do you see yourself in the larger context of the art world?
I was thinking about what art teachers say to you in terms of making art, and they tell you that art is a dialogue between you and culture, you and other artists. Needless to say, by being in society, you are going to be influenced by certain factors and will react to them even though you’re not conscious of them. However, I’m not so much interested in dialogue with other people. The idea of the hermit artist appeals to me much more than the urban artist in dialogue with his culture, and his contemporaries, and things like that. I wouldn’t like to be the urban artist, struggling to keep a studio in London, or New York, or Paris, or someplace like that. I’d much rather be an artist that lives out in the country, away from all that.
And certainly I think you need the conflict of the city, every once in a while, to understand what’s going on with humanities, because cities are the best places to see that. But making art is outside of society – I’m probably not doing this right now, and I probably don’t quite know how to do this, but I’d rather go about making statements rather than being in dialogue. But then some people say, “But what are you making statements about? Well, you’re making statements about what you’re reacting to and therefore you’re in dialogue with what you’re reacting to.” But I’d rather make stuff that’s separate, that’s quiet, that’s hopefully profound, and spiritual.
I like to make art that’s a bit like the insides of a Gothic cathedral. I’m going to Italy, to art school, so I can learn how to paint in the classical manner, where I can use an ancient style that’s been developed, that’s been refined, which is what hopefully they’ll teach me, to teach an art that’s less up-to-date. And I don’t want to go around painting pre-Raphaelite scenes of floozies frolicking in fields, with dashing men in armor. No, I don’t want to do that. I want to do abstract work…like Kandinsky, he says that through abstraction, art has the potential to be much like music. I find that very appealing because I definitely enjoy music and music has this ability to move you in a way that I don’t quite know how to describe. It is a visceral feeling and it does affect your senses directly, and music can move you to tears, and it won’t be because it’s a song or an aria about something sad, but because it’s the way the music works. It simply moves you.
And I want to make an artwork that is devoid of the lyrics. It’s about the pure notes. That’s capable of moving people in the same way. And these are rather grandiose ambitions for my artwork, and they’re probably not good ones to have at this point in life, because every painting that doesn’t achieve that – well, let me tell you, that’s practically every single one
What about Williams? What has this place taught you?
I have something to say about honesty, especially in art school. When you’re here, you hear these stories from some of your professors about them going to art school, and them getting totally railed upon by their contemporaries and their professors. And I think it’s good that that happens from time to time. I think Williams is too intimate a community to have that sort of environment where you can speak freely because you have to deal with the people the next day! You’ll go and eat with them at Driscoll, or what have you, and they’re like, “You frickin’ bastard, you said that about my work, I hate you.”
And giving people negative criticisms when you’re so close to them is a tough thing to do. Because not only are these people your critique partners, but they’re also your friends. So there’s not that sort of, “Well, I don’t agree with this,” or, “No, this is really not working, what are you doing, you’re wasting your time.” And I find that especially helpful from the professors. I really like the professors. I think they’re great people. And I want to be taught. I want to be taught how to paint. I don’t think I’m at a stage right now where I can produce work and we can talk constructively about what I’ve achieved. I think you need to go through a period of your life – and this is why I’m going to go to Florence – where someone says, “Are you kidding me? You call that a good painting? Come off it!” And “You need to do this, that, and that to make your painting work. This is how to make your painting work.”
That doesn’t go with the sort of teaching at Williams College – we’re all individuals here, we’ve all got to be creative in our own, personal way. Bollocks! How did all the great artists learn their way? And I’m not talking about Pollack and the more contemporary artists. I’m talking about people who could paint, people who could express emotion like I’d like to express emotion. They spent years in studios being taught how to do it. Fine, it’s not a liberal education, and maybe I should have gone to art school to learn that, and not Williams College. I’m sure some people here love it. But I feel as if I need to be taught.