Painter Bethany Rowland searches ever day for opportunities to connect with the natural world. Whether it is in the steady gaze of a solitary wild creature, in the reflected light on the surface of a slow moving river or in the warm air that rises from a still lake at dawn.
Rowland is captivated by the mysterious and unbidden offerings of the creatures and landscapes that have shaped her.
Her paintings are her efforts to respond to these offerings; rooted in her memories of a place, or an animal, or a sensory experience in nature.
She believes that the way she paints somehow facilitates the opportunity for these offerings to emerge.
She relies on bold brushstrokes and unconscious mark-making to trust her impulses, and not fearing making mistakes.
At times, Rowland will use photographs and observation to help define and shape abstracted parts of a painting into an honest representation, but in the end, she allows her unconscious gestures to move the brush, or wipe away, or use gravity to keep the painting dynamic.
Most of her paintings have many layers, with remnants of earlier stages of knowing a visible reminder of where she has been in the process.
Sometimes you are graced with the presence of something so magnificent, it shifts you into another state of being.
On January 11th, 2016, a chilly overcast winter morning, as I was preparing for my day at the office, a Peregrine Falcon appeared on my balcony. Perched a few feet outside my window, her bearing was watchful, yet calm. In stark contrast to my breathless astonishment and desperate hope that she wouldn’t depart as suddenly as she arrived.
I pulled up a chair. She stayed for 4 hours.
Preening. Stretching. Pulling bits of flesh from her talons. Digesting. Watching. Always watching. Sometimes meeting my gaze. Quite unafraid, mostly curious, and, I imagine, content and sated with a recent meal.
I wanted to take her all in. See like I’ve never seen before. Notice everything possible.
A single droplet of dew hung from one talon, glistening like a lost jewel. Breezes lifted the downy feathers of her puffed-out chest, rising and falling with each tiny breath. Her form was covered with a mosaic of feathering and markings more intricate than possible to recreate with one’s hand.
“The hardest thing of all is to see what is really there.” J.A. Baker The Peregrine
I approached this project with the intention of paying homage to this wild and free creature, this Wanderer, this particular Migrant, on her journey. Wanting to elevate the work to convey her special beauty, and to match the intensity of the experience, one of gratitude and awe.
And then I started painting. As so often happens with painting, or any creative endeavor honestly pursued, initial expectations lose their shimmer and grip when the unconscious provides a richer understanding of the soul of that which is trying to be understood. It is a process of inhabiting the land of not knowing. Being open to the unbidden. Making unconscious gestural marks and responding to emergent impulses. Observing, and observing again. And again.
It is from this place the show’s title, MIGRANT, emerges. The undeniable associations with the gritty reality of the world beyond my balcony. Is this the ‘hardest thing- to see what is really there?’
The Peregrine’s visitation remains a mystery. I don’t know if these paintings measure up to seeing ‘what is really there’. I hope they contain some essential truths. What is really there in these works is a reflection of how I feel changed by the experience. It has to do with understanding something anew and without sentimentality. I invite you to ponder your own questions and feelings in response.
Bethany Rowland October 2016