An eye hunting artistic content with sufficient challenges to drive intense work has drawn Michael Rowland more determinedly into the realm of surrealistic fantasy. Generally a landscape artist and architectural documentarian, the fantasy element has provided him with a new mode for social commentary, and sparked a passion for the exploration of expression itself, and the ever present need to solve new problems. Architecture is still strong in some of his newer works but tends more towards backdrop than documentation. The Market, Dreaming Lion, and, Cafe Trattoria (all commissions) include architectural elements.

Rowland’s painting style is essentially unchanged, but putting into juxtaposition elements not normally seen together, and perhaps not even related, creates the opportunity to examine and convey the nuances within broader social concepts.

Content determines your technique, he says, and its technique that renders content knowable. Fewer people relate instantaneously to the new content but work is regularly being commissioned. Over the past three years the images he’s produced have been driven by client requirements, but shaped by his own vision. The Dreaming Lion is his favourite recent success. “There’s a great deal of interaction between characters, a lively theatrical atmosphere, and it’s a light-hearted piece. It was financially successful, had its own life force in the making, and brought great joy,” he says.

The work can be a bit challenging if you’re expecting pleasing landscapes but people do make the effort to understand. Viewer interpretations of Rowland’s paintings are often radically different from his intentions, but that’s something he finds refreshing.

“A lot has changed in art when you look online at all the big exhibitions in New York and London. There’ll be blobs coming out of the sky, and all sorts of indecipherable things in modern art. Art needs intellectual context, but also to convey feeling. It’s a reflection of what’s happening in society, and art in present day big shows is a reflection of technology. Much of modern fantasy art comes from, or is designed for, gaming, superheroes, and comics.

Intrigued by the challenges of bringing a highly detailed technique to fantasy, Rowland nevertheless remains dedicated to his pre-Raphaelite heroes. “They’re so elegant,” he says.

Performance has appeared in his work before but it has, in very recent years, usurped a front row seat. Rendering figures with eye-catching clothing and costumes is fun and intended to give people ‘a bit of pleasure’, but the artistic challenge of developing the relationship between characters takes expression to another level.

Circus themes such as That’s Entertainment stem from visiting Bertrum Mills Circus in London as a child. The eye-popping experience of local travelling fairs with bumper cars and carousels struck a chord too when the gypsies were in town with their ornate caravans and pulsating music.  “The circus is such a dangerous world,” he says, “edgy. Gypsies live edgy lives. It’s interesting depicting those kinds of lifestyles.”

Much of Michael Rowland’s work refers to contemporary issues. Let’s Do Lunch is a pointed comment on climate change. This re-worked painting depicts a couple going to lunch as though the world isn’t crumbling to pieces all around them. Rowland says, “People are so much deeper on a soul level than all this stuff that’s happening, but on the everyday surface they can only take so much and then they want to do something normal, like go out for lunch”.

That’s Entertainment depicts figures going around an allegorical circular track symbolising the chaos in today’s world, while a tiger is the dictatorial controlling power, and a child stands vulnerable in the face of cruelty (refugees, poverty). Three cards in the fortune teller’s hands speak of an optimistic and abundant future, and a calm, somewhat androgynous central clown figure looks out calmly, reflecting the underlying heart wisdom of humanity.

Landscapes are where the market really is according to Rowland but he says keeping himself down doesn’t work, so he mixes it up and moves between genres. Pathways are a regular feature in his work. They lead to and from places and draw people in – perhaps because they’re such frequent dream images – you’re walking along a path and something happens.

“I love playing with tricks, and have become fascinated with tarot cards. They have such a long history.”

Early training as a graphic artist in a printing factory set the basic disciplines of his methodology and taught him the focus required by fine work. Still working fifty-fifty in oils and acrylics, Rowland occasionally combines the two, using acrylics as a base and oils (artisan water-based) as foreground.

Most works are sold to individuals and several own three or more. One owns nine. There’s always been some commissioned work and clients have recently commissioned over-size works for a retirement complex, and for an IT firm’s boardroom. A major piece in progress titled, Strength, in which a girl and a lion feature in the foreground on a complex, highly detailed rural Irish background, has obliged Rowland to paint the other way round; first filling in the background detail when usually he would bring foreground figures out first.

“I’m so lucky with what I do. That people like and buy my work is always a wonderful experience. What drives people to write, play music, or sculpt is a mystery but in my own case it’s a constant for which more than anything I feel grateful. The need of so many people to do whatever they do in life with that unstoppable urge is an important human attribute.”

Michael Rowland is on the committee for Arts in the Ville (AITV). The annual three day event in Helensville on Labour Weekend brings many visitors to see the extraordinary range of interesting work in the area. AITV provides artists, aspiring and established, with opportunities to be seen in a wider context.

Being around other artists always affects me.


Contact: Michael Rowland – (09) 420-7774


©Theresa Sjoquist – 2019 – Michael Rowland – Published January 2013


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