Artist Marie Hines Cowan Explores Greek Mythology

Updated: Oct 10, 2018


Painting by Marie Hines Cowan

While currently working on her NY Muse art project, Artist Marie Hines Cowan has put together several small exhibits as parts of the project development. The larger exhibit will eventually become an installation of her paintings and poetry, or as Hines Cowan describes it "A sort of room sized graphic novel".


A figurative oil painter marrying mythology with colloquial culture, Hines Cowan's work is narrative, life-sized, and representational, though unconstrained by realism. Her bold, colorful work is graphic and illustrative, making it a pleasure for any quality art seeking eye.


Hines Cowan unique talent and artistic style for bringing together past, present, and future from ordinary life moments into timeless space, has earned her vast amount of artistic expression and international recognition. She has been named ‘2018's Artist of the Year’ by the Barron Art Center. I recently had the chance to chat with her on what is inspiring her work.


Your art practice is driven by fusion of Greek Mythology and current culture, can you share a bit about this creative process and how it influences the end outcome through the work?


Hines Cowan: Well, I would say my work has three core concepts. The first of these concepts is the continuation and relevance of ancient archetypes and personifications of philosophies and ideas. I paint a lot women, and sometimes men, as characters from Greek mythology and I see them as relevant, current and as prevalent in today’s average person on the street as they were in the ancient world. With this in mind, though I picture the people I paint in specific places, I paint them into an abstract space on the canvas because what they are doing or experiencing could happen today, yesterday, 10 thousand years ago, or sometime in the future and here or anywhere else.


The second is the word ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a Greek word meaning picture phrase, a description of a pictorial scene like Hesiod’s description of the Shield of Heracles. I came across it when I was studying Greek mythology at NYU and it resonated with me. My work has always been narrative and I see it as a flipping of the ekphrasis definition to a picture that tells a story. When I was thinking about grad school my painting was criticized for being so narrative, and learning this word, somehow for me, completed my understanding of what I was trying to accomplish with my painting. It also gave me another connection with Greek mythology. In Greek mythology it is the gods and the muses who give the artist inspiration who “sing the story” the artist is telling. O sing muse, or some version of that starts every translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The artist is the tool or the instrument that allows the listeners or the viewers to understand the story. I have always felt that my art, the stories I depict come from somewhere outside myself, my muses perhaps.

The Fortune Teller - Painting by Hines Cowan

The third core concept in my work is serendipity. When the muses give me an idea for a painting I look around for a model I feel personifies what I want to depict. When I find that person I have them to the studio for a modeling session. Modeling for me is kind of like being an actor. I tell my model about the character, about their back-story, the emotions of the character and then I let them run with it as I take photos. Sometimes it all works out as I expected it to but many times other things happen and I get unexpected poses and results. That’s where serendipity jumps in. I find this to be the most satisfying and magical thing about my work.


So much of western culture and the things that surround us come to us from ancient Greek culture. Just being in New York City I am constantly inspired to think of bits of Greek mythology, like the statue of Nike, public works project, that stands in a Bronx park, or the lions of the main branch of the New York Public Library that make me think of the lion bodied woman the sphinx.

Painting by Marie Hines Cowan at Lord & Andra Gallery

Poetry plays a key part in your practice, do you rely mostly on classic poetry or is it also contemporary?

I am very influenced by classical poetry, but generally the poetry that is associated with my paintings, in the form of installations along side the work or actually painted into the work, is modern and most often my own writing.


You have been exhibiting since the late 70s, how do you see the art world changing, and what is the biggest change you experienced in your career throughout the years?

This is such a difficult question. I find it very hard to see any huge changes. I guess first because I only pay attention to what I am interested in and secondly because whatever I am doing, or however I am showing my work it is in the manner in which I am able to handle at the moment in which I am doing it and so doesn’t feel like a change from something else, it is just how I am doing it right now. I guess another reason why I don’t see any huge changes is because I have never followed any particular trends in art making. My work doesn’t fall into any particular style or group. I just keep creating what comes from my gut and needs to be expressed. Also, I am not terribly social and I tend to spend much more time in my studio and very little in the gallery scene so I don’t see the art world from the point of view of someone on the interior of it.


Artist Marie Hines Cowan

As a figurative painter, which artists would you say carry a big influence on your style and technique?

Chronologically I have to start with the Greek potters. The next important group would be the mannerist of the Italian renaissance, Parmigianino, Michelangelo. But others like Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Durer from the early and late renaissance also influenced me. The Art Nouveau movement was also very influential to my work, Alphonse Mucha in particular. His commercial work is pretty wonderful, but it is his dramatic mural of Slavic history that I find really inspirational. And then there are the Secessionist artists. When the 1900 Vienna exhibit came to New York I went to see it, like probably every other artist in Manhattan and it really moved me. I was and still am in awe of Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele.


This introduction and interview was curated by Shally Zucker for Artqol.