Briefly describe the work you do.
Using the language of abstraction, I blend a fluid improvisational painting approach with a repetitively structured and analytical one to create complex images that counter visual skimming. I incorporate the circle as a repetitive decorative motif, as a metaphor for binary code, and as a cultural symbol. Through intricate patterning, I combine these references to contrast passive technological consumption with the redemptive nuance of slow work made by hand. By creating a private space within a public one, my art quiets the mind and encourages contemplation.
In my mixed media works, paint is applied to canvas, cheesecloth, nylon and aluminum screens, plastic, and rug-hold. These materials are torn or cut into strips, reassembled in layers, and suspended from wooden supports. In my works on paper, the physical layering is achieved through painterly illusions or paper cutting.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
While I grew up in the Midwest, I have lived in Virginia for over thirty years. With every move, my work has been influenced by the quality of the light and the color of my environs. I also love to travel. With my interest in sacred geometry, extended research trips to the Middle East and Western Europe have had significant impact on my work. As a professor of art, teaching has always informed what I do in my studio. Since I was fortunate to have many mentors in my early years, I believe in paying it forward through generosity, role modeling, and by giving artists tangible strategies for attaining a sustainable life in the arts.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artist may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I spend whatever time I have in my studio and I often work through ideas in my head while walking. I have a studio in the lower level of my home, which is large enough to include my office and several work stations. This is ideal because I always have more than one project under development. My studio layout accommodates “messy” process based activities at the same time I work on pristine cut paper pieces. It also allows me time to ponder works in progress while I tend to the administrative tasks tied to my artistic, curatorial, and teaching practices.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when your first started making art.
As a professional artist, I wear many hats. Over the years, I have learned or improved many essential non-art making skills as a curator, teacher, administrator, designer, fabricator, photographer, cultural producer, entrepreneur, collaborator, organizer, juror, advocate, mentor, communicator, and writer.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time every day or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Balancing the demands of a career and family can be challenging. For me, it is a matter of being well organized, disciplined and working smart and efficiently. While I am in my studio every day, the amount of time varies. On a teaching day, I may only have a few hours in the evening. At other times, I can be easily absorbed by what I am doing for 8 – 12 hours at a stretch.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
The biggest shift in my work has been the addition of paper cutting to my studio practice.
Nevertheless, whether painting or cutting paper, my core motivations remain the same.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I have always had the unconditional support of my family. Recently, I have worked more collaboratively on projects that have generated traveling exhibitions, publications, international workshops, and performances.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being and artist? What are your other interests?
All of my interests are one in the same – just different aspects of the same pursuit. My aspirations combine my studio practice with my curatorial projects and teaching. I have never wanted to do anything else and I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had along the way.
Reni Gower has over 30 years of professional experience in the fine arts. Her work has been showcased internationally in Qatar, UAE, Australia, Italy, Peru, Korea, Israel, Belgium, England, Moldova, and Moscow. Additional national venues include the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum, AZ; Zukerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw, GA; Muskegon Museum of Art, MI; Kimball Art Center, Park City, UT; Erie Museum of Art, Erie, PA; Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC; Virginia Museum of Art, Richmond, VA.
Ms. Gower has received numerous grants and awards including the 2014 College Art Association Distinguished Teaching of Art Award and the 2014 Virginia Commonwealth University and VCUarts Awards of Excellence in Teaching; as well as NEA / SECCA Southeastern Artist Fellowship; Virginia Commission for the Arts Project Grants; SECAC Awards of Excellence in Teaching and Outstanding Catalog of Contemporary Materials; and VCUarts Faculty Grants for Curatorial Projects. Her work is represented in various collections including the Library of Congress Print Collection; Pleasant Company / Mattel, Inc; the American Embassies in Lima, Peru and Osaka, Japan; Media General, Inc; Capital One; and the Federal Reserve Bank.
Ms. Gower currently resides in Virginia where she is a Professor in the Painting and Printmaking Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to her teaching (painting, drawing, professional practice) and studio work, she curates award winning traveling exhibitions. She serves on the Board of the Southeastern College Art Conference and she is a past member of the Services to Artists Committee of the College Art Association. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University, a Master of Arts degree from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.