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Six of the Best 44: Painter Lorelei French Sowa

Manhattan Sky, oil on canvas, wax and gold leaf, 24 inches x 48 inches x 2 inches

Part 43 of an interview series in which artists reply to the same six questions. Lorelei French Sowa is a painter located in Florida, USA. Her paintings, whether they refer to landscape, birds, or abstract patterns, are marked by a strong sense of shape, bold execution, and multilayered textures of paint or collage. You can see more of her work here.

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Lorelei French Sowa: Paint is my primary medium, but within the scope of 2D, I vacillate between acrylics and oil. I love the problem-solving that 2D provides. The world is full of depth and shapes, and organizing that space on a flat panel and understanding the limitations and the possibilities of the medium paint requires intense creativity. The problem of how to depict something is an interesting one. There are a thousand and one ways you can go about it. There's no set rule.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?   

Lorelei French Sowa:  I tend to work on several pieces at once rather than just one. In my studio today, a visitor would see three large canvases tacked to the wall that I need to work out for a commission I agreed to do on a vacation spot that holds personal meaning. Additionally, I am working on another sizeable golden horizon line painting where I play with wax texture in the earth and floating light clouds in the sky. I also have six small 12 inch x 12 inch panels I started that I am working out the feeling of a barge crashing into a sea wall (an event that happened this spring near my home on the Connecticut shore). My best work happens when I feel a personal connection to it in some way, so most of my work has a storytelling emphasis. I am trying to become universal in my delivery without losing my specific connection. Painting is like writing in so many ways. Novels are sometimes more real than histories. Great art is not about copying things. It is about interpreting a thing. It is not what a thing looks like that is important, but what we remember about something intriguing. I use photos to understand the event, but where my mind takes over on the process and where my mind takes over on the process and where they happened are never the same.

The Great Egret Bird Pose, acrylic on wood panel, 12 inches x 12 inches x 2 inches

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Lorelei French Sowa: I have started incorporating a bit of image transfer in my small acrylic work, and I am delighted with the depth that it adds to the picture. I started playing with this when a client came to me and asked for texture and layers in work. I haven't worked out how much to use this technique and simplify it, but the unknown is always the most exciting part for me. Once work is completed, I get that moment of bliss and empty sadness because I need to move on to something new to discover. I think this is why I never work on one piece at a time because it protects me from the emptiness when I am done working on a thing.

Philip Hartigan: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process? 

Lorelei French Sowa: I love reading both fiction and nonfiction. Like painting, I tend to read more than one book at a time. Today I may pick up the middle of "The Island of Missing Trees" by Elif Shafak or "Your Dog is Your Mirror" by Kevin Behan. I highly recommend both of these, by the way. If I start reading something and don't absorb myself into it in the first hour, I put it down permanently. I am also finding much inspiration in the lyrics of songs or great poetry. Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese' is worth committing to memory. In addition to cerebral activities, I think it is artistically essential for me to move physically daily. A long walk, a yoga session, or my favorite barre class help me settle my energy and focus better on the brain. I play golf or go boating to socialize and connect with others. I recognize how easy it is for me to work in my introverted homebody self, but I can energize creatively more if I allow myself to connect socially.  

Transplanted Cuttings, mixed media on canvas, 12 inches x 12 inches x 0.75 inch

Philip Hartigan: What's the first-ever piece of art you remember making?     

Lorelei French Sowa: My mind floods back to summer camp when we spent time at the arts and crafts table. I loved this part of the day the most. I remember doing all sorts of crayon rubbings with leaves and making things out of string. I always made handmade cards for my parents and coloring book pages for my grandmother. Really the usual activities for children. It wasn't until I was 14 that I remember sitting in a high school art class and playing with acrylic paint on canvas that I fell in love with the process.   I still keep up with my art teacher, Kathy Mates today. She was such a positive force in my life. I painted this Raggedy Ann doll sitting in a chair with high-heeled shoes. It is super creepy looking, and my drawing is all off, but my mom kept the painting and still hangs it in her guest cottage in Northern Michigan. I know it is creepy because she told me her last guests took the picture down and turned it around. We both laughed.  

Philip Hartigan: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist? 

Lorelei French Sowa: I am an artist because I am curious. I am imbued with wonder and a deep need for understanding. Painting is a way of life—commuting with the world around me. Being an artist is not about talent but about exploring and figuring things out. It is simply my vehicle for connecting my interior chamber to my outside reality. I have great empathy and emotion; expressing it through painting provides an outlet for all that emotion. I know painting is not the only way to be creative, and It is just the path I am currently using. Staying flexible and independent with a tremendous spirit and a love of play are traits I value. Robert Henri (1865-1929), an American painter and teacher, sums up my understanding of the word artist better than anyone:  

"Art, when understood, is the province of every Human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra something."

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe to my Artist Newsletter via the link in the right-hand column? Thanks, and keep creating.

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