Creators, Makers & Doers: Carl Rowe

Posted on 8/6/15 by Arts & History


Although you may know Carl Rowe for his vibrantly colored and sensuous scenes of the foothills, his interests and career span multiple disciplines. At a young age he was deeply involved in music, but his first watershed creative calling happened at age 27 when he “stumbled ” into dancing. He ended up on stage while at the first dance performance he ever attended. The experience ignited a passion that led to 39 years of professional dancing, directing, and choreographing throughout the West.

It was here in the West, inspired by the vast landscapes, where Carl felt compelled to capture the beauty and theater of Idaho’s environment. What started as a novice fascination, evolved into a professional painting practice that celebrates our relationship with our surroundings.

It is no surprise that Carl will be honored for Individual Excellence in Arts at this year’s Mayor’s Awards; he served as artistic director for two dance companies, choreographed over 100 dances, and is now represented by fine art galleries in Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming.


Are you a full time artist?

Yeah, I guess I would say that. For the last year I’ve just been painting. I left the dance company I was with for twenty-five years, last spring. For most of the time, I was full time, but I do each career by sort of juggling them. I wasn’t a full-time painter or a full-time choreographer. I was the executive director and the artistic director of the dance company so that took an almost full-time commitment, but the art part is only a part of that, unfortunately, which is one of the reasons I had to leave.


How much time on average do you spend in your studio?

Well there’s no average really. I’m lucky; I don’t have to be in here all the time. I don’t like to paint under pressure, that’s why I don’t go out and try to get ten galleries like some people do. I couldn’t supply them. I like to reduce stress. I’ve had a lot of stress and I just want things to be manageable.

I also can’t spend all my time in here because it’s very solitary and I enjoy that up to a point and then I need people. So, there was a nice balance with dance, but I couldn’t have just painting. Now even without dance I just can’t do it all the time. I’m not that solitary so I need breaks from it. I just try to find the right balance for myself of being in here and sometimes I get into a groove and I’m off and excited and doing stuff and I lose track of time. That’s the way I like to paint, I don’t want to feel like I’ve got to get ten paintings out here.


Can you talk about your painting process?

There are basically two things that interest me in painting. One is shapes and volumes. Shapes are a big part of most of these paintings and it’s why the foothills are an endless source of subject because they’re just an enormous conglomeration of shapes. I love shapes, I love volume, and I like mass and the human body. I’ve been involved with the human body for over forty years in dance. It’s also an endless source of something to work with, not so much statically, for me, it’s in motion, and it’s moving, bodies in motion. My suspicion is that so many of us relate to our surroundings and these hills in particular, more so than peaky mountains, they remind us of us. Now these paintings could be muscle, sinew, bones I mean maybe it’s anthropocentric but I think that’s how we relate to anything. I’m speaking for myself but I think there are other people that feel the same way and it’s why we respond so much to it because we’re very self-centered.

The second is light and this comes from theater, from being in dance. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a dance concert, we use really strong lights. There are always colored lights, so you’re never looking at white light. You’re always looking at colored light. It comes from the sides so it’s very sculptural, it shows off the contours of the body, so as you watch those bodies in motion, set against a really high contrast background, those figures just pop out. We make you stare at that body as intently as you can stare at something. It’s the whole way it’s setup, we basically hypnotize you. I’d like my paintings to hypnotize people. I’m going after the same sort of feeling. Once in a while I get into a sort of landscape focus thing and I never feel quite as satisfied about it. Depending on how much you pull in or pull out from the shapes, everything changes. They become more abstract when you pull in and they become more landscape when you pull out, but they’re still the same subject matter.

To me I want something that’s got some emotion to it, some drama, and some sense of theater.


Do you only paint landscapes?

Oh, I paint other things it’s just that people only buy landscapes. It’s what I’m known for around here. Landscape is what made me start painting in the first place. I love mountains, good peaky mountains, but it’s the foothills that are so sensuous and so beautiful and so evocative to me that I just wanted to interact with them. I was very lucky in the sense that I picked the right subject matter at the right time because nobody was painting the foothills—nobody. I found out that there are other people who love the foothills as much as I do and they responded. It’s the back drop of the city and is the thing that distinguishes Boise from Topeka or anywhere else in the country.

One of the factors of being a professional artist is that you have to have a reputation for something. It’s why most artists don’t make a professional career because they want to be free to do anything. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s a hard way to have a career. People tell me all the time, they drive up in the foothills and say, “There’s a Carl Rowe painting.” I think it’s great, it’s the best marketing I could have.


Do you have any tips or inspiring words for artists?

I used to talk to high school students about being a professional artist and this is what I would tell them. Enjoy painting or whatever you’re doing, drawing is fine, but don’t be a professional artist, it’s a terrible life. You’re not going to make any money and you’re going to be constantly waiting tables. If you really want to make a living in art then open a gallery or be an art critic or write about art, do anything about art except make it. You’ll do much better if you don’t do it. Also, if you want to be an artist, in order to be a good artist you have to be an interesting person. So you need to spend half of your time trying to learn how to be an interesting person because you’re not very interesting right now. You’ve got to get interested in a lot of other things besides art because just being interested in art is not going to make you very interesting and your art will show it. I went on and on like this and they were getting a little depressed and one kid said “You know you’re not really selling this very well.” I said, “Of course not because if you’re going to be an artist, nothing I say will prevent you from being one. You’re the only kind of person then that will have a chance because your parents or anyone with any good advice would say don’t do it. It’s not the field to go into in this culture but people who are going to do it will do it regardless of what anybody says. I’m doing you a favor. If I can talk you out of it in thirty minutes here then I’ve done you a huge favor.”


Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.


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