Tim Rowan, Stone Ridge, New York

Rowan working in his studio.

Rowan working in his studio.

I have always been a maker/builder and need the experience of working with my hands. The engagement of my full mind and body to deconstruct and form the world is a way of trying to understand and bear witness to life. It provides a direction and language with which to engage the world. To become a professional sculptor was never something I consciously set out to do. I came to where I find myself now through the vehicle of pottery, which provided a tradition and history of people making a living. It is something tangible and nurturing. That avenue eventually began to expand and evolve to enable me to both make and exhibit pottery and sculpture. The making and the making a living have progressed simultaneously. They both support one another. In order to survive, I need to make a living, and in order to live, I need to make work. A supportive public is essential to allow me to make a certain output, both in volume and in types of work. If that support was not there, it would still happen but certainly to a lesser degree. I am fortunate in that there are people who appreciate and understand what I am doing and are able to help support it.

With the material and process, I guessed I could figure out how to survive, just like taking on any other creative problem. The energy that was going into a day job was turned toward trying to promote my work. This aspect is approached as a job-not something I want to be doing, but something essential to keep me doing.


Untitled #0815, 14 in. (36 cm) in length, native clay, 2008.

Currently I am surviving from my studio work. We don’t have many expenses, and we keep our consumption to a minimum. We barter where we can. It is certainly very precarious at times, and the not knowing generates a lot of anxiety. I find I need to have many avenues working simultaneously in order to ensure some income. I use the unease of financial precariousness as fuel to continue going in the studio (not the thoughts but the raw emotion). That is not to say that I don’t at times despair at the making-a-living part of things, but there is a lot to despair about in the world and, in context, my at-times-trivial worries of financial security are nothing more than a screen for much larger issues.

It was important in my early development to focus on the work and not overly concern myself with the marketplace. This enabled me to passionately explore my work and cultivate a unique voice without the unnecessary influence of the market.

I do struggle with the fear of the marketplace having a negative effect on my work. It is difficult to divorce marketing completely from production. It is not that commercially inclined work is not important and meaningful, but I am interested in other influences. Capitalism is pervasive and encompassing in our current culture. How does that inform the work? How does the work fight against that?


This article appeared in the January 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
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Now, I mainly sell through galleries, my website, and occasional studio sales. I have found galleries to be instrumental in being able to exhibit and sell my work. They provide a format in which to reach a national audience. Galleries may provide a context for the work and introduce it to the public in a way that I cannot. Grants so far have been elusive and, except for a few large ones, hardly seem worth the application process. Commissions have been helpful and a creative challenge.

This journey, though it may appear to some as independent or self-reliant, is anything but. There have been many folks who have made this journey of mine possible. I have been fortunate to be around people who are professional artists and who have been more than helpful in providing mentorship. This I feel is very important and crucial. I also realized that each person has developed their own way of putting all the pieces together. There is no formula. If you are absolutely passionate about what you are doing, you will find a way to continue doing it. That way may not be professionally. Perhaps it’s better for some to avoid the marketplace with their work and instead survive through a different avenue altogether.

Untitled #102, 14 in. (36 cm) in length, native clay, 2008.

Untitled #102, 14 in. (36 cm) in length, native clay, 2008.

The studio is not static, nor is the creative process. I try to balance the needs of a professional studio with my needs as an artist. Deadlines and commitments must be met and a certain amount of discipline and organization is required. The excitement and discovery of the creative process and its vast open-endedness must also be nourished and followed. I allow for the unexpected and its chaotic myriad possibilities.

At times it is important to leave the studio (concept of studio can include one’s entire life) and experience other things. The conversation otherwise becomes too self-referential and constricted.

I find I work best when I have an assortment of works in process and/or happening simultaneously (enough so I may work back and forth, but not so much that I become overwhelmed and distraught). When I am unable to move forward with a particular project because of a block (mental or material) I will switch to another one and move back to the other one at a later time. This does not mean that, at times, one must not endure and push through, but it seems to me that my best work comes from a different place. It cannot be forced, but also cannot be unfocused.

I look and observe and am informed by a great deal from my surroundings. Some of this is historical and/or cultural artifacts-corroding remnants of the land’s support of previous industrial activities, from farming to mining. The profound beauty of the land and its creatures provides endless sources of inspiration-cycles of growth, decay, and transformation. What interests me is the space between the natural and the artificial-the built environment (barns and agricultural buildings) to the transmuted landscape.

If you were to ask my advice about being a professional artist, I would say you should make work that you are completely invested in and are willing to fight for. Take a holistic view of your life and realize that everything is connected and important. Lastly, take an honest assessment of yourself and your motivation for heading down this road. There are much easier ways to earn a living.

I take great pleasure in working with clay, from excavating it from the earth to transforming it under intense heat. It carries me from mys elf to the world and back again.

Where to See More

Cavin Morris Gallery, New York, New York

Lacoste Gallery, Concord, Massachusetts

Trax Gallery, Berkeley, California

Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Nevica Project


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