Interview: An Afternoon with Richard Rowan

“Embrace the painting, and the painting will embrace you”

By Tom Barry

Richard Rowan is a singular talent; celestial is a word that springs to mind the first time his paintings greet you. His unique style, that of oil on glass, allows him to create enhanced quasi-photorealistic landscapes, with a rarely seen skill and understanding of light and its absence. Rowan credits the old renaissance masters who specialised in the recreation of the natural world in all its majesty as being major influences in his work.

His works, with their contrasting colours and deceptively deep tones, leap from the glass they adhere to. Rowan explains that his paintings, having sealed to their glass panels, will retain their colour and integrity far longer than would ever be possible were they exposed on canvas to the air. He paints directly from his imagination, inspired by memories and photographs of his travels. There is no concentration of pigment or clumping of colour here; all pieces appear to have all been painted in one sitting from corner to corner, when in fact the length of time it takes to create a single frame can range from eight weeks in the smallest cases, to four months in the largest.

I like to challenge myself with difficult work. I want to paint better than the last time; pushing the boundaries of what I can do

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the paintings for photographs; they appear so true to life, (albeit with heightened saturation) like the very same vistas or darkest nights that we witness in reality. Rowan’s fixation on horizons and the shifting skies is reminiscent of J. M. W. Turner’s most famous works, but with a greater precision and patience where Turner favoured instinct. His artwork is almost entirely representative rather than an act of self-expression; Rowan leaves small, personal touches in each panel relating to his family which are imperceptible until they are pointed out. To paraphrase a renowned aphorism, “you never look at the same sky twice”, and Rowan reflects this uniquely in every piece. His style is elemental, with something of the sublime.

Glimpse of the Infinite — The Richard Rowan Collection
Lose Yourself — The Richard Rowan Collection

It is fair to ask why we should congratulate a man for reaching such a high level of skill in making his work indistinguishable from a photograph, if photographs can be taken by anyone in a moment. But Rowan’s painting aren’t aiming to be photographs; they are testaments to what the natural world can inspire and the painstaking attention to detail of which humans are capable, to create visions of an Earth augmented by the artist’s imagination.

Finding A Way — The Richard Rowan Collection
Finding A Way — The Richard Rowan Collection

When I ask him if ambition or talent is more important in succeeding as an artist, or indeed any walk of life, he quickly responds that both are necessary; you cannot hope to achieve without the potential to do so, and the drive to realise that potential. Above all, Rowan emphasises, he wants people to be lulled by his work into tranquility, in a world quickly becoming an echo chamber of entertainment saturation. In place of noise, he offers silence. A fair trade, I think.

Enlightenment — The Richard Rowan Collection
Enlightenment — The Richard Rowan Collection

Rowan’s works are open for viewing at the Castle Fine Art Gallery in York.