Rowena Martinich’s show, Inamorata, has been brightening up our gallery this month with big bold paintings and brilliant organic details. Her show was installed at the tail end of an extremely rainy end to winter here in Sydney. Initially we loved these works because it looked like a cheerful take on all the rain, but now that we’re well into spring, the thing that stands out is the energy in the paint quality, as it matches the energy we feel with with the changing of seasons. We reckon whatever season or space you add these works to, there will be a be a guaranteed boost in joy and optimism. We wanted to get the the full story behind theses distinctive paintings, so we caught up with Rowena to chat about her work.
You work on very different scales, from small painted works and homewares to site-specific mural commissions. How does your process shift when creating these different sized works, and what do you enjoy most about the process?
Working on canvas and working on large scale public works are two very different processes for me. In the studio environment I tend to immerse myself in the process. It’s a bit of a colour cave, and is a very natural environment to work. I usually work on multiple pieces at the same time. I have my paints strewn from one end of the space to the other, and amongst the chaos I know where my favorite colours are sitting, and in such a controlled environment you know how the paint is going to behave.
On a mural site, I find I have to psych myself to take on a wall – especially if it is big. The act of painting in the outdoors is always a bit of a challenge, its physical climbing ladders and scaffolds, and being out in the elements can do strange things to paint – especially if it is so hot that it is drying on the brush as you work! The best thing about working out on a site though, is the interaction with those around you. I have had whole dialogues with people in places that I can’t even speak the language, simply through my practice. Working in public space certainly opens itself up to conversation, free cups of tea and coffee, and when in Turkey – free lunches of freshly caught fish with fishermen on their boats.
Your work contains A LOT of colour! Is there a palette you prefer to work in? What was your thinking behind the colours used in the Inamorata exhibition?
I have always used a lot of colour, however for this exhibition I feel like I have really honed my palette. I have tried to create a diverse series where each work is unique in its palette – combining bright and semi-muted fluorescence with pastels, more neutral (and natural) colours, there is also an introduction of darker palettes to offset the complexities of these works. Some works are quite punchy and others are softer, I feel that hanging together these works really speak of the richness of my experiences over the past couple of years.
How did you come to choose painting as your art form?
I have always had a passion for painting – even as a child. As I went through art school I dabbled in sculpture and installation art, but it was always so clunky. When I undertook my Masters in Public Art I fretted for months on how to ‘be’ a public artist. At the end of the day the answer was obvious – I just kept doing what I always had – painting – just bigger and in more exciting environments. As an artist I could land anywhere in the world and buy a selection of brushes and paints and 2 weeks later have a 50 metre long mural. To me the way you can transform a space or place with paint either creating a mural or simply by hanging a work on a wall is amazing. One of my favorite things is delivering a painting to a client’s house and seeing their face when in goes on the wall and injects life and energy into their world.
You spend your time between Melbourne and Jan Juc ( a coastal town in Victoria). How does this split between country and city influence your practice?
My (now) husband Geoffrey and I moved to Jan Juc at the start of last year. This was a very welcome break from the craziness of city life. The entire ground floor of our house is committed to studio, office and workshop, so this allows us a really flexible and consistent approach to our work. Having our workspace just downstairs means that I can get into it straight after breakfast rather than battling with traffic. There are also plenty of distractions in Jan Juc in the form of stunning beaches, surf-breaks and bushwalks. It is an incredibly enriching place to live and I think this reflects in my work. Melbourne is a place that I love to spend a day or 2 each week where I mostly catch up with clients, friends and grab any art supplies before bolting back to our haven by the sea.
You currently collaborate with your partner, artist Geoffrey Carran. Are there any other dream collaborations or projects you would like to get involved in?!
Yes, Geoffrey and I have an artistic collaboration where we paint together and work on large mural projects. We also have a design series that we work on together; textiles, cushions, ceramics, paintings and prints. I am ready to tackle another large public work and have my eye on a few amazing sites. I’m pretty keen to do some more collaborative works too, in particular looking at the ski and surf industry. I always love working with other creatives too, be it in the fashion sector or with architects, the idea of pushing my painting into other fields of practice really excites me, and I find that these kind of projects just come out of left-field when you least expect it!
What’s next for Rowena Martinich?
I have a few commercial projects in the pipeline, along with a large 3x6m commission for a boardroom that I am currently working on. Geoffrey and I plan to release some new design pieces before Christmas and will be launching them at The Big Design Market in December. It has been a couple of years since Geoffrey and I have done a big project overseas and I am pretty sure another will be on the cards in the next 12 month or so (with some extensive travel thrown in!)