Our Arch 8 artist-in-residence for 5th-12th November is Glasgow based Rowena Comrie. Rowena Comrie has worked as a professional artist for over 30 years; in January 2010 she relocated from Aberdeen to Glasgow where she now works from a WASPS studio in the Gallowgate. She was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and in 1982 completed her BA(Hons) in Fine Art at Reading University where she embraced expressionist colourfield painting with confidence and passion. In her past role as the President of the Scottish Artists Union, along with the SAU Executive, she worked towards improving working conditions for Visual & Applied Artists in Scotland. In 2011 she was shortlisted for the prestigious Aspect Prize, resulting in an exhibition at the Fleming Collection Galleries in London. In 2012 Rowena was awarded Professional Development funding from Creative Scotland which enabled her to accept a residency opportunity in Indiana USA, commencing April 2013. A major solo exhibition took place in March 2015 at New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge University : She continues to exhibit regularly throughout the UK, and currently is a member of Council for the Society of Scottish Artists and serves on the Management Council for Paisley Art Institute.
'Painting in watercolour is an important part of my practice. For over 20 years I documented the sea at Aberdeen, painting from the beach in all seasons and weathers, maintaining a watercolour diary. I have purposefully visited many Artist Colonies following in the footsteps artists who interested me. During 2007 I spent a short time painting in St Ives and Newlyn, enjoying first hand the source of inspiration for artists such as Alfred Wallis and Barbara Hepworth. St Ives had a special resonance for me as Terry Frost, one of my University tutors, was also a St Ives artist. In 2008 I visited and painted in Southwold and Walberswick, destinations chosen for their connections with interesting artists and also for their art colony history. I have also visited and painted in Staithes in NorthYorkshire, also an established destination for painters, to discover the attraction to creative people. Artist Colonies have provided inspiration to generations of artists who have found something particular to these locations that moved them aesthetically. The scarcity of these places unites them and intrigues me to further define the reasons behind their attractiveness to so many artists. Elements of nature including quality of light, beauty of landscape, and how they shape the character of people would I hope inspire in me a 21st century imaginative response.'
interview with rowena comrie
Glasgow based artist Rowena Comrie worked solidly across five days and produced a series of striking and evocative watercolours, all created or begun outside, with direct experience and looking being the focus of the week's process. We asked her how the experience, the location and her previous influences feed into her work, and the pieces created during her residency.
Is there anything particularly unique or specific that you found working in Bowling Harbour?
Bowling Harbour is unique in it’s variey of specific viewpoints, looking east towards the Erskine Bridge and west down river towards Dumbarton. The fact that it is the point where a river meets a canal gives it a sense of being a gateway from one place to another. It has a rich history in particular evidence from the semi-sunken wrecks that gradually appear and then submerge back into the river as the tide turns.
How do you approach creating a piece in-situ? Do you spend a few moments looking, or do you work straight away, balancing looking with manual intuition?
I always spend some time looking around for some aspect that excites or interests me. There also needs to be a suitable vantage point from which I can paint, preferably with somewhere convenient to rest my painting board. paints and water, There is a certain amount of intuition involved, based on experience, of what will or will not work well aesthetically.
What do you most enjoy about working with watercolour?
It is possible to work very quickly which means it’s possible to capture transitory effects, and respond directly to visual experience of the moment in time. Some the achievable effects are very attractive. I particularly like the transparency of the paint. The quality of the paper is very important, and the surface of the paper makes a great difference.
Does it add more or create more challenges to your experience of colour- as time goes on the impact of colour becomes layered, whereas with oil or acrylic this can be adjusted, with watercolour it could be argued that decisions made have more weight and so colour choices tend to be singular and more final?
I start out trying to be accurate with colour when painting from nature. However, instinct or intuition can take over, and colours become enhanced by the subconscious, then expressing a more personal aesthetic. Intense periods of concentration result in unexpected developments, that I am sometimes unaware of until I stop painting. It is easy to overwork watercolour, with too many layers, which removes the transparency of the paint and spoils the beautiful qualities of the medium.
I am also interested as to how and if Terry Frost, a previous tutor of yours, influenced your thoughts on colour- was this in a conscious or subconscious way through looking at his work, tutorials, idea sharing? I looked at some of his St Ives pieces and it reminded me of the building of colour in some of your watercolours created this week.
Terry Frost has been an influence on me. However, I think his influence is more from his use of shapes to symbolize a subject, rather than by his use of colour, although there is definitely an affinity there as well. This influence of symbolic shape making and composition is something that has been important in my abstract oil paintings, but I am not aware of it in the watercolours. However it may be ingrained so that I don’t notice it any more!
A lot of your larger pieces involve the Erskine bridge. Did you find this particular view looking towards the bridge offered something in terms of visual experience, contrast of structures- what drew you back to the lines of the bridge throughout the week?
I was surprised by the impact that the Bridge had on my week at Bowling. When I first saw it, I thought I had better paint it at least once as it is impossible to ignore. Then I became more and more fascinated by it – the contrast between engineering and nature, the way it appeared to float above the Clyde and way the differing weather conditions affected its appearance. if I had been there for longer I would have continued to paint it hoping to make an image that I was satisfied with. If I had gone on and taken the image further I imagine I might have abstracted it to a grid like structure, but I don’t think that would suit watercolour, so it’s one for the studio!
You write about artist colonies, and your travel to various resonant sites- do these experiences and memories play a part in other areas of your practice such as abstract work, or even when you work directly from places- or is your work more towards in-the-moment and direct looking/process?
I think everything an artist does feeds through into the work eventually. The work I made at the ‘Artist Colonies’ was watercolour studies of a similar nature to the ones I made at Bowling. These have often been the starting point for large scale oil paintings done in the studio. There will be small areas in a watercolour that present me with colour combinations or compositional anomalies that excite and inspire.
How would you describe your experience at Bowling Harbour in a few words? Or colours?
Bowling Harbour is picturesque and historic. It possesses drama, peace and if required, solitude. Its many vistas shift in the changing light, the atmosphere transforming the banal into moments of glory.