Whitehot Magazine

Marie Hines Cowan @ N.A.W.A Gallery

Marie Hines Cowan, Athena at Barnes & Noble, 2014. Image courtesy of N.A.W.A.

Marie Hines Cowan; NY Muse: Book 1
N.A.W.A. Gallery
New York City
April 3 - 30, 2014


Using New York City as the diverse geographical canvas for her NY Muse series, figurative oil painter Marie Hines Cowan presents an intriguing commentary on the historical context of the modern peripheries we inhabit. Inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol and Ancient Greek vase painting, Hines Cowan’s latest work provides an inextricable visual odyssey into worlds both past and present. Transcendental by nature, Hines Cowan’s paintings depict figures who challenge ancient history while celebrating the possibility of its conversion.

Envisioning Homer himself as a woman, Hines Cowan frequently re-conceptualizes traditional ancient archetypes throughout her body of work. Finding her muses in friends and co-workers, Hines Cowan’s images transform everyday people into proverbial gods and goddesses. Befitting a show at the National Association of Women Artists’ namesake gallery, NY Muse: Book 1 exclusively features female muses from some of Hines Cowan’s most empowering works.

In her painting Sphinx, Hines Cowan actualizes the mythologically-figured Sphinx as an African American woman. Seated in the foreground of the painting and vertically occupying the pictorial composition, Sphinx confidently holds her place on the canvas. At first glance appearing human with her womanly figure accentuated by a form-fitting, cotton tank top, Sphinx’s physical proportions soon descend into the background below her waist, reminding us of her immortality. With her facial demeanor reflecting the dauntless expression of a strong woman who unapologetically owns the space in which she occupies, Sphinx is true to her regal namesake. By portraying real-life model as worldly muse, Hines Cowan’s Sphinx speaks of the greater metaphorical discourse found within the series.

Marie Hines Cowan, Athena in the Studio 1 and Athena in the Studio 2, 2013. Image courtesy of N.A.W.A.

Throughout NY Muse, Hines Cowan pays particular homage to Athena. Hines Cowan’s NY Muse: Book 1 includes four variably different portraits of the Greek goddess as a modern-day woman, ranging from an outwardly courageous, battle-ready Athena with a spear and helmet, to a more reserved and contemplative Athena with a book in hand. Enhancing these visual narratives are the written stories which accompany the works. Conceiving of NY Muse as an art installation, Hines Cowan vividly tells the muses’ stories through sculptured-relief text adhered to the walls surrounding the paintings. Figuratively referencing her day-to-day ‘muse sightings’ around New York City, Hines Cowan’s vignette-like stories imagine Athena in unexpectedly conventional settings such as Barnes & Noble and the Institute of Fine Arts Library.

Contemplating a metamorphic world in which a setting may always be more than just a setting, Hines Cowan’s allegorical references are successively realized throughout each of her “NY Muse” paintings. A stylized interpretation of the bold and dramatic ‘picture phrases’ central to the Ancient Greek term ekphrasis, Hines Cowan implements sensational graphic elements evoking Pop Art throughout her work. Characterized by vibrant colors and concentric shapes which flow around a cheerful young woman in a bright bathing cap and a vintage floral bikini, Amphitrite exemplifies Hines Cowan’s idiomatic expression ‘popteric’. Establishing the work of Neoteric poets vis-à-vis Pop Art, Hines Cowan uses the term ‘popteric’ to define her “linking of the Classics with pop culture of 1970s New York City”.

In Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, Hines Cowan depicts Aphrodite as a middle-aged Indian woman in traditional Hindi attire. Comfortably seated on an office swivel chair, Aphrodite wears a bright red-patterned sari and gold bangles. Streams of text weave horizontally throughout the background composition, illuminating Aphrodite as an incarnate woman awakened from the pages of Homer’s Iliad. Likewise, Rosy-Fingered Dawn is personified by a pregnant woman in a cotton nightgown. With the early morning light casting an intimate shadow upon her pregnant figure, Dawn is presented as the bearer of both material and metaphysical life.

Featuring perceptible elements of iconography from both ancient and contemporary visual cultures, NY Muse demonstrates Hines Cowan’s artistic ability in bringing anachronistic eras together. Reflecting the organization of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, NY Muse: Book I is the first in Hines Cowan’s series of forthcoming stories. Transliterated from the neoteric representations of mythological figures which appear before her in everyday individuals, each of Marie Hines Cowan’s muses have their very own tale to tell.

Marie Hines Cowan, Athena at the Institute of Fine Arts Library, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

Marie Hines Cowan, Muse 1 and Muse 2, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.



Allison Ioli

Allison Ioli is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has previously appeared in Roux Magazine, Cooper Point Journal, and other art publications. Allison holds a Master's degree in Art History from the City University of New York, Hunter College.

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