In her paintings, Kathryn Cowen employs a recognisably scientific vernacular. Her subjects include a hazmat-suited figure probing a pulsating vortex; a man with wood-and-fabric wings outstretched like Icarus, testing an early flying device; people in lab coats huddled over imaginary desks and microscopes; figures shrouded in viewing and protective devices that are equal parts nostalgia, science and steampunk. Scientific hypotheses are often wildly imaginative and creative, and Cowen’s poetic treatment of imagery, sourced and re-configured from a combination of New Scientist magazines and vintage photographs, points to a fundamental human pursuit of meaning and connection beyond the realm of the visible.
Cowen creates environments with ‘washes’ and ‘pours’ that are equal parts intent and chance, and augments them with the addition of recognisable elements – plants, planets, figures, objects. Deep blues and purples are offset by bright accents of pink, orange and green. Thick speckles of these vibrant colours are often added at the end, suspended in resin on the surface of the canvas. Cowen avoids the potential slide into the saccharine with an intuitive counterbalance of these candied hues with darker grounds and uncanny imagery. There is a visual and perceptual oscillation between the materiality of paint and resin on canvas, and the depth of the celestial realms they infer.
Cowen doesn’t try to recreate the past nor foresee the future. Hers is another facet of the multiverse where the near past and near future coalesce, a theoretical realm where ideas are tested and explored. Where the optimism of early space exploration meets the dawning realisation that the earth is not the centre of the universe – not even the solar system – and we are orbiting in the dark in a vast and unknowable universe.
Rebecca Gallo, May 2015