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Alex Rowe’s Cheeky Illustrations Make Our Dark World Slightly Brighter

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You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

“If we can get real for a minute, it’s a family history of depression that inspires my work,” says artist Alex Rowe, adding that he likes to “take depression, which I’ve kind of known my whole life, and bring the darkness of the world into a different light.”

Rowe grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock and masterful films like Psycho have also colored his art, a collection comprised of skilled, oftentimes tongue-in-cheek illustrations that are meant to “add a certain charm to life,” Rowe says. “I do have an admittedly dark sense of humor, and that’s been a weird thing to self-examine.”

Darkness, is all around us, Rowe says. But he’s learned that perception is everything: “It’s the way you choose to see the world; you can make anything more whimsical,” he explains, noting that the quirky holiday card (above) he sent to friends and family last year is a good example of that overarching concept.

Rowe focuses on illustrations because he likes pictures that tell a story. His current samplings might be dark, but one of his aspirations is to get into children’s illustrations, and he’s currently working on a Beginner Readers Book tentatively titled Bears Can’t Juggle. “The Netflix preview sentence would be: Bears can’t do a lot of things, but they always try,” Rowe says, adding – spoiler alert – that the book’s message is that the only way you get good at something is by trying.

Rowe always starts his pieces with pencil, and he uses watercolor and a more opaque gouache for color. Aside from the transparency difference, watercolor and gouache are “essentially the same medium,” he says. The final steps are always digital. “It’s 2015, after all,” Rowe says, adding that computers haven’t changed much; illustrations are – and have always been – about telling the story.

Born and raised in Arizona, Rowe refined his skills at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 2013 with BFA in illustration. After college, Rowe briefly lived in Boston, then picked up a gig as a counselor at a summer camp in Estes Park. When Rowe drove to Colorado for camp last year, his car broke down and he decided to stay here.

The illustrator currently works at Steam Espresso Bar — “That’s how I get money for rent and food, and then I still have plenty of time to invest in illustrations,” says Rowe. One of his illustrations is now on display at Steam, and he hopes to show his work other places, too.  “I feel like I’m just starting to get my foot in the door, especially here in Colorado,” Rowe says. “My ultimate goal is to pursue being published, and I think having my work displayed would be an awesome bonus.”
In 2013, Rowe illustrated Body and Voice, a book by Marina Gilman on singing and breathing. He’s also done T-shirt design for FLOAT, a company that sponsors a different nonprofit organization every week. Rowe dabbles in Tarot, too, and has created a series of cards: “Carl Jung looked at Tarot from a more objective, therapeutic way, using it more like an ink blot test than for fortune-telling,” Rowe explains as way to qualify his own endeavors. 

Rowe’s dream is to bring to life This Magazine Doesn’t Even Exist, currently a series of covers he illustrated. “It’s almost too big of a pipe dream,” Rowe admits. “I have a lot of friends who write short stories, and the eventual hope is to make Doesn’t a literary magazine.”

Rowe does commissions, too, and is currently creating a vintage German ski poster illustration for a wedding. For more information on Rowe’s work, visit his website

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