Burning Questions: Artist Jason Rowles on the End of the World and More

“Jason Rowles paints the abandoned relics of the industrial past,” writes John A. Parks in Watercolor Artist (April 2014). “Rambling factory structures of concrete and broken glass provide subjects that are as poignant and elegiac as the crumbling churches and overgrown ruins beloved by 18th-century painters of the Picturesque. Cascades of fractured concrete, rusting machine parts and gloriously stressed surfaces are often illuminated from above by light that filters down just as it might in a gothic cathedral. Adorning the walls are numerous examples of graffiti contributing a cheerful and energetic presence that seems to belie the slow demise of the buildings that house them. Glimpses through windows and gaps in walls reveal a healthy natural surrounding of trees and fields. And in at least one painting, a fresh green bush flourishes in an otherwise deathly interior of smashed masonry and sprayed graffiti tags. Life follows death, these paintings seem to say; rebirth is inevitable even if the form it takes is sometimes unexpected.”

Rowles’s work is featured in Watercolor Artist, where you can learn more about how his “meticulous and sensitive rendering elicits poetry from deserted industrial buildings and graffiti-covered walls.” In this “Burning Questions” exclusive, the artist takes us further behind-the-scenes.

watercolor painting by Jason Rowles artist

“The humor of squatters’ graffiti achieves a new poignancy with the careful rendering of the tattered chair in Occupied (watercolor on paper, 30×22).” ~John A. Parks

• You have a plane ticket to anywhere in the world to paint—where will you go?
Naples, Italy, would be my top choice. Bordeaux, France, a close second. As with most of Italy, Naples has a very strong cultural history, so inspiration wouldn’t be more than a short walk. Visiting the city’s Baroque, Medieval, and Renaissance architectures intermixed with street art would be at the top of my itinerary. The new and old cultural landmarks and traditions could create a really strong conversation within a body of work.

• Do you squeeze the paint tube from the bottom to the cap or go right for the middle?
Just like toothpaste, I go from the bottom to the top. I roll as I go, any other way drives me nuts!

• What’s the one thing you can’t live without, and why?
Cereal! I teeter between Raisin Bran, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Frosted Mini-wheats. Cereal is my go-to breakfast after my 6:30am paint session/run/workout. I usually mix in a scoop of protein powder to get the neurons firing. It also works well for an afternoon snack.

• If you won the lottery, how would you blow it?
I would…
• pay off my student loans.
• create a comfortable portfolio of low/high risk stock investments.
• travel, visiting major cities and cultural meccas for painting resources.
• have a spacious studio, as I’m starting to run out of room to store artwork in my current 6’x6’ multipurpose area.
• build an expansive inventory of media, which would be fantastic for experimentation.
• start a small art supply company. I’ve had an idea for a new watercolor palette for a couple years, along with some ideas for different brushes.
• get a garage to house a few projects (car, motorcycle, prototypes, and of course a Matsuura Lumex Avance-25 3D printer to render those ideas), since I’m also a closet gearhead.

• It’s the end of the world as we know it. What’s the one painting you’ve yet to create?
I would wait a few more minutes. I’d imagine the end of the world would make for a great series of work.

• What’s your earliest art memory?
The thing that really set me on track with art was a book that my older brother, Jeff, gave me for my 10th birthday called How to Draw Marvel Comic Superheroes. I read the book front to back, drew every which way on every page and never stopped. It still sits on my book shelf, dog-eared and worn.

• What’s the best (and/or worst) advice you’ve received?
This one always makes me laugh: “You should draw caricatures on the boardwalk.” It’s a nice thought, but not really practical. I’m terrible at drawing caricatures; I’m too obsessive to stop at a sketch, and the fun of art-making is the meditative rendering of the subtleties. To me, it’s like telling a medical malpractice lawyer to swap jobs with a patent attorney.

• Give us your bio, in six words.
Do your best, experience everything once. (Editor’s note: Click here to share this quote on Twitter!)

• What are your plans for the next three months?
I’m going to travel and I’m really going to focus on disciplining myself and channeling my productivity. I’m going to finally push the term “procrastinator” out of my skill set. Oh, and obviously, paint!

• What’s one rule that you think should be broken?
Some watercolor purists don’t accept lifting as a valid technique. While I don’t use it all the time, I do use it and I find that it helps to vary the look and feel of the work. It’s also useful in pulling out negative spaces depending on the type of pigment applied and the paper press. I tend to go for my No.10 synthetic flat brush because of its effectiveness in the technique.

• Do you have a ritual that gets you primed for painting, say, listening to obnoxious tween pop?
I sit in front of the painting, no resource in view, looking to see what it needs next. Those few moments are the often most helpful in connecting with the work. Then I put on the music. I listen to just about anything, although I still have a fondness for the hardcore rock genre while I’m painting (As I Lay Dying, Atreyu, From Autumn to Ashes, etc.). Music is more of a background noise to me, although I think it helps to set the mood for my paintings. I was recently talking with a friend who plays audio books while he paints, which is something that I may start doing soon.

• You’re free to steal one artwork from any museum. What would it be?
Lorenzetti, Ambrogio, The Allegory and Effect of Good and Bad Government, fresco, 1337-1340, Il Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy. I wrote a nice 20-page paper on this fantastic piece in college. The title explains the premise of the work, which is elaborately detailed throughout the scenes. Finding a space to keep the massive work would be difficult though, it takes up 3 walls of the Sala dei Nove!

• Any funny or unusual anecdotes relating to your art in general?
After completing my first 30”x40”painting, larger than average for watercolor, I decided to build my own frame to house it. I researched dovetails, spent quite a few hours learning how to use a router, and tackled the frame. I built a dovetail jig to perfectly align the corners and routered out the channel for the mat pack. After laying in the filet, packing the traditional float-mount mat pack, and wiring the frame, it was complete. I brought it in to show my professor before dropping it off to an exhibition at Kutztown. He looked at it, complimented me on the dovetail work, and then casually noted that they’re typically not used in frames. Inside, my heart stopped for a brief moment, then, when it started working again and I brushed it off. It was such a simple oversight on my part; it was silly. I think it worked well with the piece and it was a great learning experience. I’ve since then moved to finger joints and splined miters when I build frames, which are just as strong and more subtle, ideal for artwork.

• Name one influential person in your artistic life.
At Kutztown, my sculpture professor, Phoebe Adams, grabbed a crowbar and opened my mind to, what I would term, object dissociation. For example, placing a chair on its side, for that moment, it is no longer a chair, functionally, at least. Coming from a traditional Catholic school background, thinking outside the box like that was mind blowing to me. It allowed me to look at art, objects, and theories in new ways. I actually understood the fundamental principle of abstract art. Manipulating media has been a blast since then.

• Anything else you’d like to add?
Question your art frequently. Ask, what story are you telling? Will creating it benefit you? The viewer?

Free download: Landscape Art: 4 Lessons on Creating Luminous Landscape Paintings
Visit Jason Rowles’s website at www.jasonrowles.com.
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