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Featured Artist: Robbie Rowlands

4th March 2015 Featured Artists

Robbie Rowlands is a Melbourne based visual artist who creates contemporary sculpture within abandoned environments through manipulating everyday object and spaces. As many of his works are transient, Robbie utilises photography to capture and document these installations.

His latest exhibition – “Tread lightly for this ground may be hollow”, featured five large scale photographs (printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag) from his recent artist residency in Detroit. The photographs themselves are extremely alluring and the way that Robbie cuts and manipulates the environment to reveal what lies beneath is pretty amazing.

Feeling Exposed - Wooden Shed
Feeling Exposed - Wooden Shed

Education and background:
Early days I studied in the wonderful TAFE system at Box Hill TAFE. I disappeared into the world of music recording for a good 8 years. Worked my way through studios and the music industry, got fed up and studied Bachelor of Fine Art – Sculpture. I still do the occasional album but primarily I concentrate now on my arts practice.

Where are you based?
Preston – Melbourne

How long have you been a visual artist for?
17 years

What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date?
To date my biggest achievement has been to run a fairly experimental art career and have a family. As far as with in my art practice I recently travelled to Detroit for an Australia Council residency and followed this with a show in Boulder Colorado. Every year seems to hold new challenging opportunities to integrate my practice into diverse locations.

What are your creative influences?
I was lucky to spend part of my undergrad in NY and so was fairly immersed in some quite incredible art happening in the 1990’s. Artists such as James Turrell, Cornelia Parker, Rachel Whiteread, Bill Viola…. I was also surrounded by possibly the last frontier of the old school grungier Brooklyn and so that kind of raw struggling urban/city landscape really seeped into my blood. This mixed with some time in Australian central desert allowed me to pull back a bit from what I felt I new and begin to question. In the everyday I draw my creative influence from places most people may ignore; Forgotten spaces and abandoned/discarded materials. I tend to be drawn to situations that have a story that divulges something interesting about humanity in its most fragile moments.

What are your favourite tools of the trade?
My favourite tools are fairly basic. I use primarily a variety of electric saws and an angle grinder. I’ve had a few people quote me as using a chainsaw to create my interventions which possibly matches the aggressiveness of the outcome but really it’s a bunch of tools you could get at any hardware. My other most important tool is my camera. For the majority of what I create the end result is usually destroyed so the documentation is quite important. I’m asked quite often how I feel about the loss of my physical work. I’m usually fairly comfortable with its temporary physical state as long as I have the images to extend the memory.

Tell us a little about your upcoming exhibition?
The new show ‘Tread lightly for this ground is hollow’ is a selection of photographs and film derived from a residency I undertook in Detroit late 2014. I was invited over by a really great artist run initiative called Popps Packing. I’d met up with Graeme White a few years back and dreamed up the idea of revisiting. I applied for a grant with OZCO and it all fell into place. As you may know Detroit is in a bit of a fragile way and has been for a fair amount of time.

Whilst my practice has resourced abandoned buildings and materials in the past it was a little overwhelming to be surrounded by so much despair and potential material. My aim for the experience was to find a way to create within this. The title hints at my physical process of respectfully dealing with the fragility of the environment and its history. Ultimately I was searching for ways to find a balance, to look for graceful outcomes that possibly help feed the optimism I was experiencing with the local art movement.

What’s next?
I’ve had a fairly busy run up till now and I am hoping the new show defines a point at which I can stand back a little and look at what’s been happening. I’ve enrolled at RMIT for masters so I’m hoping this will also allow time to reflect and consider some new paths. Working site-specifically I’m able to respond fairly quickly to new opportunities so certainly there will be something new within the year.

Raised - Burnt Door, Burnt House
Raised - Burnt Door, Burnt House