Los Angeles stands out in particular to me because it is the city that helped me take my work to a new level—it’s a city where people take art seriously, without a fear of passion.
— Katy Cowan

Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor

Katy Cowan (b. 1982 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin) received her BFA at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington and her MFA at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Recent solo exhibitions include Cherry and Martin (Los Angeles, CA); Lynden Sculpture Garden (Milwaukee, WI); Green Gallery (Milwaukee, WI); Dan Devening (Chicago, IL). Her work has also been included in group exhibitions at M. LeBlanc Gallery (Chicago, IL); Fourteen30 Contemporary (Portland, OR); Kate Werble (New York, NY); the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (Madison, WI); and Poor Farm (Manawa, WI). Cowan is represented by Philip Martin Gallery in Los Angeles, CA and Green Gallery in Milwaukee, WI.

What was the aha moment that led you to art... and did Los Angeles play a part in your career decision?

I wouldn't say I ever had a particular moment like that. Instead, when I think back, I can't help but consider my art career as a collection of influences and decisions. I've spent time with so many interesting people (artists, laborers, philosophers, foundry workers, etc) living in many different parts of the US (Midwest, East and West Coast, and the South). All of those experiences and social situations have conglomerated into an ever-building 'moment', a kind of prolonged event that I cannot disentangle from my artistic practice. Like the people and places mentioned, Los Angeles is part of that growing influence. But Los Angeles stands out in particular to me because it is the city that helped me take my work to a new level—it's a city where people take art seriously, without a fear of passion. And seeing that attitude in others really encouraged me to allow my work to mature in ways I wasn't expecting.

How has living in LA informed your approach and aesthetic?  

Before living in Los Angeles, my work was much more inward-facing. But, upon arriving in LA, I was immediately struck by the surrounding, sun-drenched mountains, and landscapes that surround the city and make up southern California. I also was amazed at how incredibly rich the art community was here in LA—where there is a great diversity in how people think about making art. I like to think that in my recent metal and wood sculptures I am taking a cue from the landscape of SoCal, the shifting colors of its skies, as well as the openness to what counts as a material for "art". These environmental particularities have conditioned my interests and added a layer to the way I approach themes of labor, craft, and fine art through my material choices.

Katy Cowan
The Rest, 2017
Watercolor, graphite, oil, latex, pastels
106.7 x 45.7 x 61 cm
42 x 18 x 24 in
Photo: © Katy Cowan
Courtesy of Philip Martin Gallery

When and how did you first feel embraced by our LA art community?

I first moved to LA from the Midwest in 2012, when I began as an MFA student at Otis College of Art & Design. I was nervous to make the move. Upon arriving, however, my nervousness quickly transformed into excitement. The artists and students that I met in LA were really supportive and enjoyed sharing thoughts and ideas. For example, I proposed starting a "crit group" among my classmates and it quickly expanded beyond Otis, having members from CalArts, USC, and UCLA; I was amazed at how vast the art community was and how supportive artists in the city could be. Meeting and discussing work with artists in situations like that is a lot of fun and filled with a lot of creative energy. And it is that kind of energy in LA that made me feel at home there.

The exhibition speaks about the vitality of our art community. Which pioneering LA artist influenced you the most? And whose work do you find intriguing right now?  

As far as pioneering artists, I'd say: Ed Ruscha and Robert Irwin and David Lynch. I don't think you can really "see" their influence in my work, but those artists made work that I'd seen and loved early on in my art-making life. They each, in differing ways, forced me to pause and appreciate not just how enjoyable and layered art can be, but also how complicated and confusing it should be. More currently, I'd say Mimi Lauter—she recently had one of the best shows I've seen in a very long time (at Blum & Poe).

What is your favorite art accident?

This is a tough question... not because I can't think of anything specific, but because I love accidents. I love incorporating accidents into my work and learning to react to them, to build off of them. Accidents are how I learn, and they are what allow me to keep making work. I realized this when I began making sculptures. I used to think of myself strictly as a painter. At some point, however, the way I was painting started to feel too controlled. So I challenged myself to stop painting and to make work that was unfamiliar—that way, I would be less constrained by the medium (or, at least feel as if I was). Once I did that, everything felt like an accident. 

Photo of Katy Cowan: TinType

Katy Cowan
Now/How?, 2017
Watercolor, graphite, spray paint, oil, latex, pastel
104.1 x 35.6 x 27.9 cm
41 x 14 x 11 in
Photo: © Katy Cowan
Courtesy of Philip Martin Gallery

How They Ran
Over The Influence
August 12 - September 5, 2018