HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/21/13) – Famous abstract expressionist Philip Guston once said, “Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see.” While one may capture a moment or emotion in a photograph, a painter is left to convey their feelings on an entirely different plane. A painter creates a work of art out of nothing more than emotional intention and a self-determined method of displaying it. One of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th Century, Pablo Picasso, described painting as a blind man’s profession, “He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.” The same may be said of local artist and Hopkins County resident, Kristian Rowland. Rowland’s work seems to outwardly express his inner struggles with life and his need to find his purpose within that existence.
The Sugg Street Post had an opportunity to sit down with Kristian Rowland and really delve into who he is, as well as the reasons he creates such brilliantly-colored and oftentimes abstract pieces of artwork.
What inspires Rowland’s creativity? It all boils down to his passion for humanity and the intensity of his expressive endeavors to uncover the secrets of human existence.
“Emotion, real life situations, and struggle inspire me,” explains Rowland. “Struggle is a big inspiration for me. Anger inspires me. The human form inspires me. I think the human body is, literally, perfect, and I think faces are fascinating. I feel like people put on masks every day. We have to adapt to what we are doing during the day and it’s hard to be yourself. I find myself constantly trying to cope with real life and trying to understand the limitations we have. Why does everything seem to be working against us? Why do we live in such a messed up place that is so beautiful at the same time? It’s a double-edged sword.”
Kristian Rowland was born in Madisonville, KY and has lived in Hopkins County his entire life.
“I had a really cool childhood. It was pretty adventurous,” says Rowland. “When I was young, I used to play out in the woods all day. I was always building forts, drawing, and painting. It was a lot of fun. I played sports growing up, but I was always ‘in my head’ instead of ‘in the real world.’ I was always reading comic books and stuff.”
Reading comic books is what actually influenced Rowland to start drawing at an early age.
“I taught myself to draw by tracing comic books. My favorite comic book growing up was probably Spider-man. Then, when I got older, I was more into Batman. Eventually, I got into stuff like Spawn and Daredevil. It got darker as I got older,” laughs Rowland.
In time, Rowland started to develop a passion for drawing the human form.
“I just really admire the human form,” says Rowland. “The human body is like a machine. It does whatever it wants to do. It cleans itself and heals itself. It can regenerate new skin cells. It’s really wild when you really think scientifically about all the things the human body can do.”
Although he had been participating heavily in them, Rowland started to realize that school sports weren’t really his passion near the end of elementary school. He began putting more time and effort into his drawings, and by the time he’d reached his sophomore year at Hopkins County Central High School, he decided it was time to take art more seriously.
“I felt like this is what I was supposed to be doing,” says Rowland. “I just knew that was what I needed to do with my life. I had some really cool art teachers at Central. Mrs. Evans and Mr. Crabtree really helped me out. I took every art class I could.”
Rowland was always experimenting with new ideas during the creation process. He was never satisfied working within the strict confines of someone else’s ideas.
“You know how sometimes you can bust the head of a pen open and it drips everywhere? I would do that on purpose,” laughs Rowland. “I really like the drippy, Ralph Steadman look [most commonly associated with the works of iconic author and journalist, Hunter S. Thompson].”
Eventually, Rowland started branching out into new and different mediums, all the while experimenting with varying processes to achieve a final product he could be proud of.
“I started using charcoal, spray paint, acrylic, and oil,” says Rowland. “I like to use more than two mediums when I paint. I feel like I get more out of it. I feel like it’s more expressive. I use a little bit of everything.”
A new endeavor Rowland is toying with is the creation of his own clothing line.
“I would like to start my own clothing line, but it seems too business-like for me. I’m trying to beat the system and it’s beating me,” laughs Rowland. “I’d really like to mess with some graphics and put them on t-shirts and stuff.”
And while Rowland says he respects pop art by artists such as Andy Warhol, he ultimately feels like pop art is hit and miss when it comes to his personal tastes.
“I love street artists like Shepard Fairey,” shares Rowland. “I think street art is probably what the future of art will be, honestly. I really respect street art. I actually want to do street art. I really love Banksy. Banksy is the man right now.”
One of Rowland’s favorite things to paint is faces. However, he enjoys put ting his own spin on them.
“I find myself painting a lot of faces,” says Rowland. “I like taking an idea for a face and just distorting it. I also love painting the human form. The human body invokes so much emotion in people. Let’s say you painted a picture of a nude prostitute, made it really huge, and people saw that in a gallery. They are either going to be pissed off and think it’s nasty, or they are going to love it. You’re going to get something out of it, and that’s the point of art. Artists are trying to conjure up a wealth of human emotions.”
Rowland says that he utilizes a range of colors in his works to both voluntarily and involuntarily symbolize differing emotions as well.
“For me, blues are more mellowed out, while reds are more angry,” explains Rowland. “Sometimes I pre-plan it and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s just random and I won’t even understand it. A lot of people believe that creating art is like a communication between your conscious and your unconscious mind. To me, it makes sense. Sometimes when I’m painting, I’ll get this really weird feeling in my gut. It basically tells me to do something and then it turns out awesome. Then, my rational mind will be like, ‘Why did you do that?’”
Even though creative spurts will arise intermittently, inspiring him to create when emotions are high, Rowland says he much prefers planning a painting out before starting on it.
“I actually like to plan it out a little bit,” says Rowland. “I really like to sketch out an idea first. I’m at that point now where I feel like my technical skill isn’t really where I want it to be. So, I’m thinking about going to art school. I got accepted into an art school in Chicago, but I’m still trying to figure out if that’s what I want to do or not. I’d like to graduate school first and get that out of the way. I’d like to make a living off of my art. One day, I’d like to open my own gallery and help people out by teaching workshops. I’d like to help people learn to express themselves. I’d like to give them a place - an outlet - to express themselves. I don’t ever want to get comfortable with my art. I want to keep getting better and never stop experimenting with new things and ideas. It may be my ego talking, but I really want to leave my mark on the world. I want to inspire people to do what they love. I would love to have a group of artists transform this whole community. That’s what I’d like to do.”
In addition to the possibility of honing his craft on a grander scale through continued education, Rowland says he also draws inspiration from sharing ideas with and enjoying the works of other like-minded artists.
“Other people’s work really inspires me. It makes me feel good knowing that there are other people who might understand what I’m going through. I don’t know why creative people are so crazy but they are,” laughs Rowland. “I like reading biographies about the lives of famous artists. That really inspires me.”
So, who are Rowland’s favorite artists?
“I think that Vincent Van Gogh is the greatest artist of all time,” says Rowland. “Starry Starry Night is a landscape, abstract, and expressionism all in one. Seeing that painting in person was amazing. I actually touched it, too. I got yelled at, but I was like, ‘Forget it. I’m here. This is mine now. I touched it.’ Van Gogh is my number one. I’m also a big fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was big in the ‘80s. I really like Pablo Picasso’s African period as well. Egon Schiele was a really big figure artist in the 1800's and I like his work. I also really like Marc Chagall. I like all artists, really. But my big three are Van Gogh, Basquiat, and Egon Schiele.”
Why, specifically, is art so important to Rowland, though? Ultimately, he says that he utilizes art as a form of therapy.
“It gives me an outlet,” shares Rowland. “It lets me step outside the box and make sense of all this. Art is my therapy, man. All art is therapy. Why else would you want to make something? You have to have the emotional drive to make it, or some kind of need to make it. That’s therapy. You are helping yourself out. On the surface, it helps me cope. It helps me deal with the daily struggle. It helps me make sense of all this. It helps me deal with the stress at work, stress with other people, and the stress of my environment.”
“I want people to know that it’s ok to be weird and creative. It’s not a bad thing,” adds Rowland. “People are blessed with this ability to create. Whatever you believe in—creationism, the big bang, or that we’re all just randomly here—we’re all creative creatures and we need that. It helps us all out. It helps me understand myself better. It’s a visual journal to look back at paintings you did in the past. It allows you to see where you were at during that point in time.”
And Rowland believes that everyone is truly a creative person from birth.
“I feel like artists take their ability for granted. We’re blessed,” says Rowland. “I think all people are creative, they just don’t know it. That’s why all little kids like to draw. They stop drawing when they get older. They just stop doing it. They have to grow up, get a job, and work on 'Maggie’s Farm.'”
In Rowland’s opinion, art allows the community to look at itself with a different perspective.
“I feel like art and creativity helps the human race grow,” says Rowland. “Without creativity, Steve Jobs never would have made any of this. There would be no architecture. There would be no colors, no blue shirts, none of this stuff at all—whatever all this is—without this creativity. I think it expands our environment and it expands us. It helps us to understand things in a different perspective, really. It allows us to see things in new ways and it helps us expand whether we want to or not. It can even expand our minds subconsciously. I think the universe is constantly expanding and I think it might be infinite. One day, the day I leave this body, I will find out, whether I accept it or not. That’s the cool thing about death, I suppose. Death is the ultimate answer. And that’s another reason why I’m thankful for my ability to paint. Whenever I’m dead and gone, that painting [motioning towards a nearby painting] will still be somewhere. I’ve never seen anybody throw a painting away. If I ever see a really good drawing in the trash or anything—I don’t know why I’m digging through trash; I'm just speaking hypothetically—I’m taking it.”
Another interesting thing about Rowland’s work is that many of his pieces don’t necessarily get titled.
“I don’t know what to call a lot of them,” says Rowland. “I like what Jackson Pollack said about titles. He feels like titles take away from the work, because then the person looking at it expects something. If I paint a face weeping and I call it ‘Sorrow,’ then people will be like, ‘Oh. This makes me sad.’ What if I call it ‘Salvation' or something’ Then you’ve got a completely different outcome. Whatever it is, that’s what it is.”
Finding the time to pour into one's craft can be hard to do. With that in mind, Rowland forces himself to make the time even though he works a third shift job, because otherwise he feels like he’s just spinning his wheels.
“Whenever I’m not painting or drawing, I feel like I’m wasting my life,” shares Rowland. “I try to paint or draw a little bit every day. Honestly, I just want to paint all day, every day. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to go work some stupid job that I hate. I don’t want to work on 'Maggie’s Farm.' I work a third shift job at Bremner in Princeton [Kentucky], so I can’t really paint as much as I want to. I’ve just got so much passion for what I do and I don’t want my job to define me. When I tell people I work at a cookie factory, I don’t want them to think that’s all I will ever do with my life. I want to be recognized as an artist, because I am an artist. That’s what I want my mark to be.”
All in all, Kristian Rowland’s abstract work challenges and confronts you. The brilliant colors in his work arouse the emotions and heighten the senses. It’s very easy to get lost in his paintings as you wrestle with his—and perhaps your own—inner struggles visually.
To follow Kristian Rowland’s work, keep an eye on kristianrowland.carbonmade.com/, his Instagram account @kristian_rowland, and his Facebook page.
Now that you've had a chance to see some photographs taken by Sugg Street Post photographer Jessi Smith, scroll below to see some photographs taken by Kristian Rowland of other pieces he has created.
Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith and Kristian Rowland