The Minis: Rowan Willigan
Hi Rowan! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hey there, I’m Rowan! I’m an artist, photographer, dancer and librarian born and raised in the Hudson Valley of New York. I dearly love my home town, and feel insanely lucky to have been able to go through so many phases of life here. I live in a small converted barn with my boyfriend on a quiet street, where I draw and paint and also shoot most of my portrait sessions.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
Most of my life has taken place in the Hudson Valley, where I attended Red Hook’s public schools up through high school. I thought at one point I’d want to leave town after high school, but ended up attending Bard College in Red Hook (best call ever) to study art.
I started dancing when I was 5 years old, and trained in the same school until I was eighteen. When I was fourteen, I joined the performance company of said school, and got the opportunity to teach younger students. That was one of my first jobs, along with working at a local library in a neighboring town where my mom is the assistant director and children’s librarian. I grew up surrounded by books and art, which has had a huge effect on where I am today.
When did you begin creating art and what made you want to pursue it?
I can’t fully remember when I consciously decided to start creating art. I only remember that I’ve always been surrounded by people who’ve encouraged me to. Since my mom is a librarian, she’d constantly bring home bags of books from the library full of arts and crafts activities when I was little. We burned through those books together, making art projects daily. I loved it, and started craving that feeling of making things with my own two hands on a regular basis.
I’ve had several influential creative adults in my life who’ve helped me believe in myself enough to pursue art. My high school art teacher was one such person. She changed my life, and gave me the most loving, honest, and valuable guidance I’d ever had up to that point. It’s cliche, but she was so much more than a teacher to me. She introduced me to how vast the world of art is and can be, and how there’s a place for everyone’s form of expression. Now that I’m a teacher myself working with young kids in the dance studio, I always think of her, and hope to be the kind of support to them that she was to me.
When I got to college, I thought I was going to study something I’d been told is more “practical” like psychology. That thankfully didn’t last long. I tried to do psych, then English. One year and three advisors later, my advisor at that time said to me, “Why is your major English, when most of your credits every semester have been art classes?” I just replied that I loved art and wanted to take as many art classes as I could while majoring in something else. He was bewildered by my answer, and honestly just wasn’t buying it. He strongly suggested I change my major to Studio Art, as he could sense the doubt in my voice when talking about any subject other than art. His words stuck with me, and I ended up graduating from Bard College in 2015 with a degree in Studio Art.
You have a lot of beautiful facets to what you do; what inspires your artwork?
My work is heavily inspired by line, balance, form and intuition. I get so excited and energized by making work. I love the time and consideration it takes to build up the layers in a piece. I so often want to act fast and create art quickly because today’s world is so fast paced, and to a degree, I feel as though we are all conditioned to be at a sprint 24/7 without feeling like we have any say in the matter. Creating a piece forces me to slow down, think, and consider my options. I keep pushing myself to explore different media. I find that if I work the same way or with the same materials for too long, I get restless, so I shake it up as much as possible and have several irons in the fire at once. Now that we are in an age of heightened visual stimulation like never before, thanks to social media namely, I find that it’s that much easier to be inspired by others. We can all share our work with the world much more easily, and as stressful as social media can sometimes be, I also love that it provides us with the opportunity to virtually visit millions of artists studios and exchange ideas with as many people as possible.
I feel as though I’m finally starting to hit some sort of stride in my work, and create art that feels like a true extension of myself. I don’t know how to describe what makes me want to pursue art. I just love it so much. It excites me, and I love how art can make people feel a wide array of emotions. I know how I feel when I look at a piece of art or dance that I adore, and I want to make people feel that same sort of excitement, wonder and joy looking at something I’ve made.
Do you have a favorite project/piece you have worked on?
I was lucky enough to have been selected as a muralist for a collaboration between Bard College and the Freehand Hotel in New York City this past year. It’s been one of the most valuable and eye opening creative experiences of my life. The Freehand hired artists to paint murals all over the hotel and in the guest rooms. I painted around 60 guestrooms, and learned so much about myself as an artist in the process. Working consistently at that pace and larger scale brought so much out of me that I didn’t know was there.
How do you combine your love of dance and painting?
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and my take on how I combine my love for these art forms comes down to a few key visual elements: line, balance, chance and form. These four elements I’ve grown up learning about namely through dance, but have realized that they have crept their way seamlessly into my visual artwork as well. My drawings and paintings bring forth those elements as shown in the line quality and the organic compositions. The physical act of painting and drawing is movement itself, so I think in my head it registers for me as a very similar experience to create visual art and dance. I’m still involving my body in the creation of the work, and the overlap feels natural. I’ve recently started a photography project involving body paint, which is also a clear overlap between dance and art to me. I’m using my actual body and the bodies of others as a canvas.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
To me art is a deeply emotional and physical experience. I feel physical urges to draw and paint, and the deep satisfaction I get from creating is accredited in large part to the action itself. My work doesn’t often stem from the conceptual realm, but comes more from a place of urgency to put a tool to a surface to feel it make marks. My fixation on sensation and physicality draws from my dance training. I’m used to action and movement being a natural means to a creative end, and am endlessly passionate about expressing myself in this hybrid way.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I think it’s vital that women support each other, always and forever, but especially now. Given our current political climate, and recent events, women are FINALLY being given airtime and the voice that we so deserve. It’s crucial that we stick together and dedicate ourselves to supporting and loving each other. I’m so hopeful for the future of women’s rights and equality, but we still have such a long road ahead to achieving those ideals fully. I believe that we’ll only get there if we work together and support one another.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
I’m inspired by so many women these days that it’s overwhelming and such a wonderful feeling. In the Hudson Valley especially, we’re surrounded here by businesses, galleries, farms, breweries, restaurants, etc run by passionate, strong women. To be in this region where women are choosing to plant their roots and start their own businesses feeds my drive to continue on confidently on a creative path. I’m inspired by living in such a place where female energy flows strong and is supported by the community.
What are some of your favorite places in Hudson Valley ?
My favorite place in the Hudson Valley is hands down Poet’s Walk in Red Hook. I’ve been going there to walk, write and draw since I was a kid, and the nostalgia I feel every time I’m there is overwhelming. I also love the Mohonk Nature Preserve in New Paltz, Ferncliff Forest in Rhinebeck, and in a larger sense, every beautiful back road in the area. Sometimes I just go driving down winding back roads with the windows down to smell the fresh air and clear my head. On an eating and drinking note, my favorite spots are Sloop Brewing Co. in Elizaville, and Gaskins in Germantown. There are so many fantastic places to go around here to experience food, art and culture, and I’m still discovering new places to this day.