Interview With Mark Rowden

When Mark Rowden first discovered linoleum printing, he immediately knew that it was the perfect medium for transcribing the way that he views the world. Like his artworks, his visual sensibilities are full of hard contrasts and graphic outlines. Art Pharmacy recently met up with Mark and spoke to him about his lino printing techniques, his unique visual language and the stories behind his works.

What is the first artwork you can remember creating?
The first important artwork that I did was a portrait in high school, a school project to do at home. My father, who is very artistic, mentored me. Previously I had just done cartoony drawings, but that weekend my dad taught me techniques for shading and tone. When I brought the work to school, nobody believed that I had drawn it, not even my teacher.

When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist – was it from a very young age or later in life?
I was always artistic and I realised that I had to get out of school and go to art college. My parents sent me to the local art college in England when I was sixteen. Before that, I was always told that I needed to concentrate on writing and reading. In English I wrote essays where half of it was in writing and the other half was ten pages of drawings. I once got detention for saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I always wanted to transcribe the world around me through images.

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You’ve been educated in art in both Australia and the UK. How important were your studies to the work that you’re currently doing?
I probably wouldn’t have been a print maker if I hadn’t gone to Australia. I only just touched on it in UK, where the colleges I applied for were very painterly. In Australia I had very good lino teachers. Lino opened up the floodgates from the first time I did it. It was easy because it’s the way I see the world. I see my surroundings in black and white - when I look at things I see the outline or the shadows in a graphical way.

Lino is the main medium that you work with. Could you walk me through your lino process?
I always start by drawing with black marker on lino. When I’m doing a series, I draw all of the images on the lino first, then carve them and then print them all at the same time to make them cohesive. Recently I’ve been hand-colouring prints by adding watercolours once the print is dry, which is a little out of my comfort zone. I’m also experimenting with installation and sculptural printing, such as making print dioramas or engulfing a room with large prints.

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When you create your works, how do you decide what to depict - do you usually start with an idea or a concept in mind, or is it more intuitive?
Usually I work towards something and I don’t usually have a collection ready to go. I’ll come up with idea through different ways, such as through traveling or seeing a gallery show. Whenever I get stuck, I turn to snow. I didn’t know why until my friend emailed me saying that he had been painting a landscape that was one day suddenly covered in snow. He wrote, “I can see your work. I could see you carving this landscape.” All disruptive elements disappear in snow, leaving the contrasts and light and shadows. I’ve collected images of snow for years, and I will always turn back to it.

Your latest series for Art Pharmacy is called 'Wonderland: Memories From Childhood’. How did you get the idea for this series?
The series was produced for the Randwick Children’s Hospital charity show for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation. The foundation helped my child when she was born. I wanted to help raise money as a thank you. The works are based on photos from my childhood. I wanted the viewer to be able to take on the works as relatable, as scenes that reflect my own personal memories but also a more universal experience of the innocence of childhood.

One of my favourite works of yours is ‘The History of Prams’. It’s charming and quirky. What’s the story behind this work?
That idea came because I’m a stay at home dad. Whilst having conversations with other parents about buying prams it came to me to do an image with prams. I did historical research to find images and made sure they were in the right order. It’s quite out there for my work, but I had to get it out. I did it over a week, just carving prams.

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What are you currently working on?
I have a few ongoing projects. I was selected to be a part of the Lane Cove Traffic Box Project, and was assigned to paint the traffic box in Lane Cove - Corner Longueville Road and Birdwood Avenue.  My design is a a tram and conductors, painted in graphic lino print style. I have an upcoming Lino Printmaking Workshop which is sold out but another on November the 22nd  at North Sydney Community Centre, which will be fun as I’m working on getting more teaching. I’m also working on some large format prints, I'm hoping the final piece will be around 2 x 6 metres.

Do you have any upcoming shows?
I have been in a few group shows this year including ‘MOTAMO’ International Biennial of children’s books in Belgium. I collaborated with my daughter, putting my lino print style onto her scribbles. In August 2016 I have a solo show at Broken Hill Regional Gallery, which I’m currently working on. I have too many ideas!

You can see all of Mark's works here.

Words: Ellen Oredsson