Rowan Paton is an artist who lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her artwork is characterised with mark making, language, colour and print. Primarily concerned with landscape, Rowan creates new imagined spatial planes and environments.
What drives your passion – when did you know that art is what you wanted to do?
Even as a child I was specific to the point of fussy about the anything visual. I’ve always been fascinated by colour, I loved drawing, painting & using different materials. My earliest memories of school are at the easel with pots of paint at my disposal. Later, I learned that I come from a line of painters. Donald Paton, my Great Grandfather, was a Scottish water colourist, his son Hugh Paton, also a painter and his daughter, my second cousin, Avril Paton, famous for her Glasgow painting ‘Windows in the West’, recently included in the film Trainspotting 2. When I realised I could draw it felt like a natural route for me. There was never really anything else I wanted to do, but make pictures.
How did you get where you are now in your career?
I studied Drawing & Painting at Edinburgh College of Art. Prolificacy came easily because all I wanted to do was work. I received a scholarship in my 3rd year at the Yale University Summer School of Art & Music in New England. Six weeks of blissful American summer: studio space, sun, lovely people, swimming in the local pond, topped off with fantastic tutors and a chance to make new work. This experience informed my degree show and a large body of painting. I graduated from ECA and applied to return to Yale University, Connecticut, to complete a Masters in Painting & Printmaking from which I graduated in 2002. I returned to the UK but I found my practice quickly became hampered by ongoing depression & anxiety. It felt unmanageable to be a working, self-employed artist.
I later met my partner, and the changing of the tide came with the birth of our daughter three years ago. Very quickly I realised two inevitable things, that life is incredibly short and that I wanted to be a somewhat decent role model for my child. Last year I committed to painting all hours of the day to create a steady practice again. I set myself a goal of 5 shows in 2016, and by the end of the year, I had exhibited in 9 which was amazing. I have loved working again and have become prolific once more. Perhaps it has just been the right time for me. A perfect storm.
What do you make and what are the ideas behind what you make?
My current practice is driven by a preoccupation with mark making, but language, colour and print also characterise my work. I use appropriated imagery to accomplish a sense of narrative, chopping up and collaging my own photographs and images, along with those from magazines, to create imagined landscapes. Essentially it’s about escapism. I make myself alternative environments. I have begun using text & language again within my Printmaking, something that drove my practice in earlier years but had since dropped. Certainly, right now, there is much to react to, and find words for. Using text with image has always struck me as an obvious visual catharsis, a sort of therapy I suppose.
What inspires you?
I am, and always have been, inspired by landscape. All landscape really, but specifically mountains. Being a Scot, it has never been hard to find them or indeed a view. Monumental natural phenomenon such as icebergs, bodies of water, cloud structures, northern lights etc. are massively compelling for me. In contrast, women also inspire me. I have been and continue to be inspired by women who have overcome adversity, this is especially close to my heart right now. Injustice, inequality & abuse, all of which are particularly current, inform my practice. Perhaps there are strong parallels between the female and the stoicism of landscape.
Where do you work? What is your average working day?
We bought a very small house a few years ago, the only benefit a large garden, allowing us to extend this year. I will have a studio space as a result which is thrilling. Right now, and for the past year I have been using my kitchen table. I have boxes of materials, folders and canvases stacked around the house, but most of it goes back under the bed when I am done with my work. When I’m not teaching, my day is punctuated by a lively toddler. I find that I complete periods of work that last 5 to 20 minutes at a time, I then get up to make a snack for her, lunch, entertain, clean up, go to the park etc. On a nursery day, I get a good solid 4/5 hours, which is a total pleasure and a treat. I also use my evenings to paint. Coffee and music are very important additions to my working day, obviously.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a two person show with fellow artist, Andrew Philips, for early June this year at Whitespace, Edinburgh, which I am really looking forward to. Also, coming up this month I am participating in the Death or Glory show at DOK, 18th-24th February 2017, Leith, a great artist run space, as part of city wide Audacious Women Festival, which I’m really excited about.
In what way does being Scottish/being in Scotland influence your work?
I regard having been raised in Scotland a massive privilege. We are party to spectacular landscape, it really is some of the most beautiful I’ve experienced anywhere. I have been looking at fabulous vistas since I was a child. It is easy to take that for granted, but when you realise nowhere else is quite the same, has the same light quality or colours, you begin to understand and appreciate that privilege.