BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
Much has happened to better serve Rochester’s fledgling artists over the past year. The area’s young, fresh, motivated art scene has expanded to include new pop-up galleries, collaborative art spaces such as The Yards, and 1975 Gallery, which serves fresh new talent as well as local mainstays, has gained a better foothold in the professional art scene with a permanent white-walls space. Rochester has gained new working artists, and some rising stars have departed to pursue a wider audience and field of opportunities. And just last month, “Wall/Therapy” brought a set of international artists to paint murals on various public spaces in our city, which has put Rochester on the art-world map in a major way that many don’t fully grasp.
If you’re not watching certain budding scenes, these crucial developments may not have hit you yet. But part of the fun of participating in Rochester’s community is paying attention to which talents are not only creating impressive works, but creating opportunities for themselves out of the ether. Part of the artistic journey is eking out a life for yourself — staying open to possibilities, networking (read: playing with other creative types), and working pretty much all of the time. Many newish artists hold jobs that are either on the periphery of what they’d like to be doing, or completely unrelated. But the difference between the few who succeed and the many who don’t is making sure the work remains central, no matter what.
Here, we present you with four more impressive, emerging creatives, each working in diverse media and genres, ranging from ceramics, to portraiture, to illustration, to photography. Each divides time between making ends meet and looking out for opportunities which will settle them more firmly upon their path. Though the future is never certain, the combined talent and drive of each artist makes it likely that big things are in store.
Ceramic artist Andrew Cho straddles the line between sculptor and illustrator, having not quite abandoned his origins in drawing for his love of clay. He adorns each of his fragile, unpredictable vessels with brushy portraits and scenes, drawing influences from old engravings, as well as Chinese and Japanese calligraphy.
During his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, Cho shifted from his major in drawing to study ceramics, because of his interest in how drawings change when brought into the third dimension. With ceramics, you can make the surface look like almost anything, he says, “but technically it’s very challenging. I got ceramics degrees because I didn’t want to suss it out on my own.”
Drawing skills are something Cho determined he could hone on his own, but “when ceramics fails it’s horrible, it blows up,” he says. “It’s very expensive.”
The artist earned his MFA from Georgia State University, and came to Rochester in September 2011 after he received an artist residency placement at Genesee Center for the Arts & Education.
The meditative narratives pictured on Cho’s cups and bowls are depictions of the way the artist perceives people interacting with one another, and the process of each individual coming to terms with him or herself, he says. “A lot of the work is centered around psychological development, the construction of yourself as an individual and how you go about it.”
Cho’s last cohesive body of work, from 2010, was called the “Auto Construction” series, a group of crudely hand-built representations of humans in various stages of constructed identity. The title of the oeuvre “came from a type of architecture that developed organically in slums,” Cho says, where people create their own dwellings in unplanned neighborhoods. Over time, scraps are built up into unexpectedly complete structures. In this situation, where people used whatever material was around them, slowly renovating the house as they lived in it, Cho saw a metaphor for human development, and for the process of maturation.
“We have this outward face that we are forced to deal with that is simultaneously something that we have to present as a finished product, but is something that is very, very dynamic, currently in flux, and never quite finished. So it’s incomplete, but we have to be proud of it at the same time, comfortable showing it off,” he says.
Cho is developing a new body of work for his solo show at the culmination of his residency at the Genesee Center, which will take place in the autumn of 2013. In the meantime, he earns money by selling his functional art: affordable, small works illustrated with animals, people, and objects.
“Working with mugs and bowls allows me to put drawings in this whole other idiom of something that people interact with intimately,” he says. And creating these smaller pieces allows him to clear his head between the larger endeavors. Cho frequently sends work away to shows, continuing to promote his professional reputation on a national and international scale rather than just a local one, so that he can be anywhere and not have to start from scratch with his relationship with an audience.
While Cho isn’t sure he’ll stay in Rochester after the residency concludes at the end of 2013, the Jacksonville, Florida, native is enjoying the Rochester community, hiking, and fishing. “When winter happened, I’m pretty sure I made an idiot of myself, stepping on frozen puddles and giggling,” he says. His long-term goal is to be a self-sufficient artist, but he has a soft spot for teaching, he says. Cho plans to apply for more residencies, and for teaching positions. “Cast a wide net, make the best of what comes in,” he says.
You can check out Cho’s current works at the “Proof of Residence” exhibition at the Firehouse Gallery at the Genesee Center (713 Monroe Ave., geneseearts.org) through August 23, with co-artist-in-residence Melinda Friday. Visit his website at theandrewchoartshow.com.
“I grew up in two artistic homes,” says 19-year-old Alison Cowles, who is the daughter of illustrator and animator David Cowles and Arts & Crafts-style painter and printmaker Laura Wilder. She cites both parents as influences. Cowles and her father share a love of television shows, pop culture, and comedy, and from her mother she gained an appreciation of classic illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, who Cowles loves for his “over-exaggerated features and stances.” Cowles also counts artists Al Hirschfield and Bob Staake as aesthetic influences.
I met Alison Cowles when she was just 13, when I was managing the office and studio for her mother. Even at that age, Cowles exhibited striking creativity, skill, and initiative, drawing countless goofy characters from her imagination and making storylines for them, or doing studies of beautiful women from old books and magazines. Beginning in 2010, she attended PrattMWP in Utica for a year and a half before dropping out this past January, deciding to pursue her career as an artist immediately.
“My parents are artists,” she says, “and I figured all I could learn was right there at home.”
Cowles went from paying for school to earning money, immediately feeling encouraged by commissions for her work by the business magazine Fast Company and newspaper the Baltimore Sun, as well as gaining freelance work for both caricatures and portraits (Cowles is also an ace at realistic, traditional portraiture). And only one month after leaving school, Cowles was contacted by current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bobby Moynihan, who purchased the original painting of Cowles’s caricature of his Drunk Uncle character.
For the last several months, the young artist has been developing a line of celebrity caricature work based on “Saturday Night Live” cast members (which she has dubbed caricatures of caricatures) and other pop-culture icons such as Madonna, Adele, and Sarah Silverman. Cowles strips each person down to features and gestures that show off “the pure, raw face of” each character, she says. And she nails it every time. “A big part of my work is just comedy,” she says. “Comedy is very, very important to me.”
Cowles is making a living with commissions and selling prints of her work online, and gains more freelance work by sending out postcards of her work to art directors. Cowles takes any commission challenge — “anything in the world,” she says. In the future, she says she’d like to work in character design for a children’s show, such as Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time,” or even start her own “crazy, kooky” kids’ show.
Cowles also dabbles in music, and while in high school wrote songs for and played in the band The Girls. Cowles also sang in the band The Demos, but says now that she prefers to work behind the scenes. Given a time machine, Cowles says she would have loved to have written songs for The Spice Girls in the late 90’s, or go back to the 60’s and write for Dusty Springfield.
Cowles is working with her father on some videos for “Sesame Street,” for which he will provide animation and she has made four songs, which she will be performing herself.
See Alison Cowles’s work at her first solo show, “Rough Truth: Celebrity Caricatures,” at the Bug Jar (454-2966, lobbydigital.com) through October 3. You can also check out her work at the Genesee Center for the Arts & Education’s “Spokes & Ink” show, taking place August 25 across the street from the Center (713 Monroe Ave.) For more information, visit geneseearts.org. More work can be seen at alisoncowles.com.
Brother to Alison, the elder child of David Cowles and Laura Wilder is a talented young illustrator for hire and a professional letterer for Marvel Comics. Clayton Cowles, age 24, wanted to be a comic-book artist from a young age, and like his sister, was encouraged by his working-artist parents. But he also toyed with the idea of going into psychiatry. “I entertained other career paths,” he says, “but I guess there’s no fighting it. Making art is what I’m good at, it’s what I know.”
Cowles graduated from The Kubert School (formerly The Joe Kubert School for Comic and Graphic Art) in 2009, and immediately gained an internship with Virtual Calligraphy, Marvel’s official-unofficial lettering studio. He’s been working for the company since, honing the skills of blending in. “You’re given somebody else’s art and the script that someone wrote,” Cowles says, “and you have to make it all mesh together, but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t distract the reader and pull them out of the story.”
Cowles’s lettering work can be found in the series “Journey into Mystery,” “Fantastic Four” and its sister title “FF,” “Defenders,” two “Avengers” titles and other “Avengers” books, a “Hulk” book, and an independent graphic novella called “Wild Children.”
Drawing temporarily fell aside as Cowles used his first year out of school to focus on excelling at digital lettering, but in the past two years he’s been exploring graphic elements and studying anatomy, and is working to develop his personal style and an impressive portfolio. His website reveals a variety of interests in subject matter, from developing his own scenes and stories based on existing characters, to pop-culture portraits, to varied work he’s done for the Omega Sketch blog, which sets weekly thematic challenges for participating artists.
Aesthetic influences for Cowles’s own art include Belgian artist Georges Remi (best known as Herge, the creator of “The Adventures of Tintin”), former X-Men artists Joe Madureira and Alan Davis (Cowles has lettered work for the latter), and Mike Mignola of “Hellboy” fame.
Cowles has a list of artists whom he’d like to letter for, but his ultimate goal is to write and illustrate his own comics. In the next five years, he hopes to emerge into the creator-owned comics industry, inspired by artists and writers such as Jonathan Hickman, writer of “Pax Romana” and “Nightly News,” and writer of Marvel works “Fantastic Four” and “FF.” There are ups and downs to this indie field: you have to do your own promotions, Cowles says, but you have more artistic freedom, and own your own artistic property.
“The more successful guys in comics these days seem to start out with creator-owned [books],” he says. If the artists and writers catch Marvel’s attention and work for the company, they’ll have gained the high profile to better support their independent work. Cowles plans to save enough money to live off of for two years, and then spend that sabbatical developing comics and sending ideas out for the best deals possible.
Cowles also has the special honor of being named the second-ever Marvel Hunk-of-the-Month (he was picked for August 2011), separated from the original hunk by 25 years. The story consists of good-natured humiliation and camaraderie, and if you buy him a beer, he’ll tell you how it happened.
See Clayton Cowles’s work at his site, claytoncowles.com. You can also check out his work at the Genesee Center for the Arts & Education’s “Spokes & Ink” show, taking place August 25 across the street from the Center (713 Monroe Ave.) For more information, visit geneseearts.org. Follow his entertaining Tweets at twitter.com/claytoncowles.
If you’re in love with all things nostalgic, dreamy, and vintage, Hannah Betts is your gal. Betts’s photography is inspired by the slower, more satisfying lifestyle of old, by smiles, laughter, and softly glowing, natural light.
Betts began shooting photos in her junior year of high school, and fell hard for photography. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City; at the time she wanted to go into fashion photography, but after graduation, Betts realized she didn’t fit into the “cutthroat fashion world. It wasn’t my style at all,” she says. She then attended Syracuse University for a year to try out photojournalism — which was also a bad fit, she says — but while there met artist St. Monci, who is now her husband. The two-artist household is full of love, mutual support, and some serious thrift-store skills.
“I found my way in fine art,” says Betts, after she realized she wanted to shoot for herself, and celebrate life through the particular aesthetic that attracts her. Betts is finally at a point in her career where she receives freelance jobs from clients who seek her out specifically for her style, but this came only after she cut her confidence teeth on collaborative projects with other artists in town. Betts blossomed while doing much of the photography for Rochester artist quintet Sweet Meat Co., as well as for collaborative art space The Yards, both of which share her love of the faded, nostalgic sensibility. She became more at home in her work while sharing the hidden moments that she captured, and the group of young artists grew together.
Like many other emerging artists, Betts struggles with the lack of time and resources to fully pursue that which calls her. She works full time as a photo editor, takes on freelance work as it comes, and pursues her own projects as time allows. Like many smart artists, she uses her projects to learn more about her craft and expand her skill set. For example, Betts is currently learning about food photography as she shoots images for the lifestyle blog, “Hello, Scrumptious,” one of the side projects she has going with her sisters.
Ironically, though Betts’s aesthetic celebrates a vintage lifestyle, and she has repurposed old cameras and loves to shoot with film that is no longer produced, much of her work is digital. “I would shoot with film a lot more if we weren’t in an age when people wanted things right away,” she says, adding that it’s more expensive to shoot with film as well. To achieve the nostalgic effects with new technology, Betts tweaks the settings on her camera to intentionally overexpose the image, and shoots in mornings and evenings for softness. What she does begins in the camera, and is enhanced in Photoshop later.
Betts’s long-term dream is to own her own gallery someday. “I want to go out and find artists and show their work,” she says. But she’s not pushing for anything to happen; she prefers to pounce on opportunities that come her way.
“I’m very laid back,” she says. “I believe in being happy. Happy with what you do, happy with being yourself.”
To see more of Hannah Betts’s work visit hannahbetts.com, where you can also find links to her side projects.
Emerging artists is an ongoing project by City Newspaper. If you have a Rochester-based up-and-coming artist you would like to put in City’s spotlight, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.