Rowann Villency has immersed herself in art since she was a child growing up in New York. Starting classes at 10 years old at the Brooklyn Museum art school, she went on to earn a degree in art and art education from New York University and an MFA from Pratt Institute. Though she enjoyed teaching after graduation, she found that it did not leave her enough energy to paint, and she knew that painting was crucial to her. “I can’t imagine life without art,” she says.
When she went out on her own, Pop Art and Minimalism were the popular art world trends but her passions lay elsewhere, with Cézanne, the French Impressionists, W.M.W. Turner, John Marin and Helen Frankenthaler. Undeterred, she devoted herself to what she loved, studying in Provence, and then moving with her husband and children from Manhattan to Eastern Long Island a few months every year, where she could revel in the special light that has drawn artists to the area for decades.
From the beginning, Villency drew inspiration from nature, an ardent observer of the change of seasons, the local foliage and the rolling dunes. She also became intrigued by Asian art, an influence that deepened as she traveled in Japan, China, Vietnam and India. Happily, she did not have to wait for critical attention, her remarkable sophistication and technique winning her New York shows at any early age and, in time, avid collectors.
“Illuminating Nature” displays her full range of powers, most strikingly her talent for creating compelling visual experiences by virtue of her rich and varied palette, confident brush strokes and sensuously textured surfaces. Atmospheric and fluid, each painting appears three-dimensional, as alive as Van Gogh’s swirling impressions of the French countryside.
“Provence” bursts with movement, as if the stems and leaves were growing before our eyes, light tingeing their pale green and soft apricot-colored shapes as they reach for the sun, hints of violet and blue a reminder of the sky. Villency creates a completely different world in “Exotica,” employing strong vertical lines of deep green and crimson, to convey a sense of heat and dampness, and the urgency of growth. Tropically lush, it’s a place where Gauguin’s Polynesian women would feel very much at home.
An artist of great subtlety, she shows sensitivity to nature’s myriad moods. In the delicate and dreamy “Mid Summer’s Dream,” with its pastel colors reminiscent of Zen watercolors, patches of luminous white impart the feeling of air moving around in a garden. And in the more forceful “Hawaii,” velvety pinks and reds spill over on to violet and blue shapes like lava descending from a volcano. Her affinity with Asian art is especially apparent in the poetically evocative triptych “Kyoto After the Rain.” Tiny blossoms that look like stars dance through space, hovering over graceful branches, fragile and eternal.
No one but an artist who devotes her life to her craft and to understanding the natural world could have painted these wondrous works of beauty. With her artistry in full bloom, she shows us just how blessed we are by nature.
Valerie Gladstone writes about the arts for numerous publications,
including The New York Times, ARTnews, Art and Auction and Art and Antiques