Chloe Rowan is a student at McGill and a featured artist in the upcoming Fridge Door Gallery vernissage “process(ed)”. I sat down to talk with her about what it’s like to balance being an artist and a student, what kind of processes she goes through in making art, and what she thinks about street art as a practicing street artist herself.
Catherine LaRivière: Just to start off – where are you from?
Chloe Rowan: I’m from Toronto!
CL: How long have you been an artist for?
CR: Since, I guess, I was a young child.
CL: So like doodles on the fridge?
CR: My dad was just always making art. Whenever we got bored, he would be like “hey you wanna make a painting?” so we would usually just do that. I still have one painting in my room in Toronto that’s something that I did as a kid. My dad got my sister and I to just do abstract art all over some paper and then he cut the piece of paper into fish and then made a painting out of that. And that’s still hanging in the room!
CL: As a serious artist though, how long would you say?
CR: Oh, well, dedicating a lot of my time to it - about a year? Since last October, but I’ve been doing it for a long time, just more dedicated now.
CL: Now that you’re more dedicated to it, what’s your preferred medium?
CR: Oh, geez, my preferred medium? I work in lots of different mediums. It depends if we’re talking about on the street or in the studio. I work with ink, watercolour, gouache, paint markers, acrylic, oil sticks, and spray paint. Overall, I would say acrylic paint is something I’m getting more into.
CL: And in terms of your street art?
CR: I’m still kind of learning the spray paint – it’s a hard medium to use. Each tip is a different pressure and angle and you have to learn it – it’s a whole new language. It takes a lot of time, but doing the murals is a lot more rewarding than doing the wheatpastes, which can be ripped down.
CL: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
CR: I draw it from spirituality, feminism, and the natural world.
CL: So, “Mother Earth” kinda vibes?
CR: Yeah! I took a course on goddesses this summer, and I was also living in the Rockies in Alberta so I was just immersed in the beauty of the world and just very attuned to it and its spirituality. That’s actually what inspired the piece that’s going to be in the vernissage.
CL: Mtn Drips?
CR: Yeah, and the sketchbook too. I had that sketchbook with me, and there’s just mountains everywhere so I was always sketching them. They also really inspired my “trippy” aesthetic; they’re just done up in lines and waves.
CL: I saw some of your other works in progress on your Instagram page, it’s very psychedelic.
CR: Yeah, it’s very trippy. I like to think of making art as a sort of meditation, so I don’t like to think too much about it. So I just kinda go with the flow and let my hand do what it wants to do and go with the flow, then it’ll come up with something that’s almost moving when I look at it. I just let my mind drive it and try not to think too much about it.
CL: Kind of like an animate object on an inanimate canvas?
CR: Yes, exactly. It makes the work alive on a two-dimensional surface. I don’t work in any 3D mediums, so I’m just working on making a classic 2D medium come alive and it’s very satisfying.
CL: Do you have any main influences or favourite artists?
CR: Well, I really like Frida, and any feminist artists. Also, Dali. They’re both surrealists. I don’t really do realist stuff, but I take a lot of inspiration from their surrealist aspects. Like, their weird stuff. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the Group of Seven, too, and their landscapes. I spent a lot of time in Algonquin Park growing up, and they were all around there. So I like it, but I’m also critical of it because they never really incorporated any Native influences into their landscapes and just kind of silenced it. I actually really like contemporary artists that comment on that.
CL: You know Kent Monkman?
CR: Yeah, Kent Monkman is great – I love him. All of his stuff is very provocative. Also, another artist who’s good with that is Peter Doig. He had a big exhibit at the MMFA a few years ago and I went like, 3 times. It was his giant landscape paintings and I just loved it. He paints in such an interesting way. He definitely inspires my landscapes.
CL: What do you study and how does that influence your art?
CR: I study Art History, so I’m just always surrounded by new art.
CL: The exposure to all the different kinds must be helpful.
CR: For sure, it definitely makes me feel less constrained to where I get inspiration from. Like, I don’t have to look at what’s going on now and say “Oh, I have to do that!” I can just draw it from all of history – even cave paintings.
CL: So how do you balance being a student and an artist?
CR: It’s hard – school takes the backburner a lot of the time. I don’t want to admit it, but like, readings? Bye. But, I mean, you just have a different set of priorities, but you also know how to cope with stress.
CL: Yeah, you have a creative outlet all set up for you.
CR: Definitely. The first few years at McGill were really hard, but I thought choosing Art History as a major would be a way to still be inspired and it was, but just focussing on academia can be really hard. But for the past few years, I feel a lot happier and I’m more organized with my time. You know, it’s stuff that I actually want to do – it gives me drive. Sometimes I just want to go outside and paint, enjoy the fresh air.
CL: Why not? Just go out and paint a mural when you’re stressed.
CR: I wouldn’t say it’s exactly like that, but sometimes if I get stressed, I’ll go walk around and put stickers up. Kill two birds with one stone – stress relief and promo.
CL: With your art, what kind of effect do you want to have on your viewers? You had talked about movement and animation.
CR: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t want all of my pieces to move, but I definitely want my pieces to all give off an energy. Like, a kind of spiritual energy, but sometimes also a powerful energy. I’ve done some more feminist stuff which deals more with the active female gaze. With the “I See You” in the street, it’s instilling a kind of returned energy. It’s kind of like my third eye. People will say “I saw you in the street!” But then I’ll say “No, I saw you.” And it’s all over the place too; on laptops, on phones, on walls, on street signs. It’s like rejecting passivity. And to go back to your art history question, the active female gaze is also something that really inspires me. Like, a rejection of the idea of quiet women. It’s still everywhere, even today so I always come back to it with my own take on it.
CL: So, the theme for the vernissage is the idea of process – tell us about your artistic process. A mural, or a painting, or whatever – what are the key elements of your artistic process? You know, if it’s not like the Caramilk Secret or anything.
CR: Yeah, I’m thinking about it. It’s always so different though - everything I do is so different. It usually starts out with a sketch, and some kind of inspiration. Be it another artist or something in nature or a combination of things, I’m always inspired by something. Unless it’s to de-stress, then I usually just let my hand flow. But for my serious pieces, sometimes people will see things in them and point them out, like with the eye/vagina stuff. Someone had said to me, “Hey, if you put that on its side, it looks like a vagina” and I was kinda like “huh!” So playing with form too. And sometimes, I’ll see things on Instagram that I want to draw and I’ll just insert an eye somewhere. Other times it’ll just be making something more trippy. I just like engaging with things that challenge me.
CL: So just kind of, letting artistic energy flow through you, however it might come up?
CR: Yeah, exactly. That’s great, actually!
CL: You had mentioned to me, when I asked you to do this interview, that you had a completely different opinion on street art than what I’d posted on the FDG’s blog. I definitely want to hear that, especially considering you’re a practicing street artist.
CR: Well, some of it is like you said – breaking down barriers of galleries, and kind of, letting some soul bleed out into the streets. But with stuff like MURAL festival, it can become kind of elitist, in my opinion. They only tend to fly in big name artists that don’t have as much connection to the city – I have major respect for them working out in the sun though, that’s crazy. But yeah, it can get very elitist. The art has no connection to the city; it’s just a pretty picture on the wall. Like, intrinsically it is a nice picture, but it’s just there to look pretty and have people take their Instagram photos with it. And it’s totally gentrified the Plateau too; people just go because it’s hip and cool now, and the murals have become a sort of tourist trap more than an actual connection to the city. Plus the rent is going up because of it; they haven’t changed any of the buildings, it’s just because of the aesthetic. I mean, it’s a beautiful area to live in, but think of all the old Portuguese ladies, you know.
CL: Yeah, I can see that being a problem. I’ve had a couple friends priced out of their apartments in that area. Like, it’s nice but it’s not as nice when you can’t even afford to live there any more.
CR: Yeah, exactly. I know MU works with more local artists and has a lot of local initiatives like calls for artists and they get them to collaborate too.
CL: That’s a great alternative then. I kind of feel like, because stuff like MURAL is basically working to make the city all pretty and draw huge crowds out to the not-as-nice parts of the city and sort of gentrifying it, in a sense it’s almost becoming like a gallery or institution in its own right. They’re sort of breaking down the walls of the formal art institutions but then putting them back up again.
CR: Well, the streets were already a gallery! For me, I like the tags and I like the graffiti. The more street art there is and the more public art there is, the less people are going to hate on graffiti. But also, if it wasn’t for graffiti, we wouldn’t have these festivals and public art institutions anyway.
CL: Yeah, it’s like 5Pointz in Queens. I like to think of it as being a point of contention because it was judged for being just a bunch of graffiti and tags, but people came to like it because of all these tags making it into a really cool public art space.
CR: Exactly. I walk around the city, and I see something different every day and I love seeing the evolution. I see people rip down stickers and paint over stuff and then paint over it again, but it’s always in constant evolution. I live in an area with a lot of graffiti, and seeing it change every day – it just makes every day a treat. That’s what I love about it.