Stephen Rowley is an interdisciplinary artist, whose career has been every bit as colourful as his art.
Despite a passion for art, music and dance, his first degree was in Environmental Science at Plymouth. On a minimum grant, he paid his way by playing guitar in a band every Friday and Saturday night. The degree led to a first career in oilfield geology and chemistry, working in the North Sea. Sitting on an oil rig he had a brainwave and invented a new system for gas analysis. He was awarded an MPhil for his research into proving the technique.
In the mid 1980s he was enticed into the computer industry as a design engineer, rising to become European marketing manager and founding a $200m business for Digital Equipment Corp. His work took him all over the world. He always took the opportunity to delve into the local culture, visiting galleries, meeting musicians and making friends. All this time he kept a pocket sketchbook, documenting his travelling life.
A keen sailor from childhood, he became involved in the Ocean Youth Club and Shaftesbury Homes as volunteer afterguard on sail training vessels. In 1992 Stephen left the corporate world in order to do some big sailing and re-evaluate his career. He set off from Mallorca to the Canaries as professional 1st mate on a luxury yacht. In the Santa Cruz de la Palma he became 1st mate on a 1926 Dutch schooner carrying cargo to the Caribbean. Probably the last commercial cargo crossing of the Atlantic under sail.
Returning from the sea, he set about building a new career as schools and community artist. His first project was a great success, creating the popular Looe Pirate Day, which ran for many years. Teaching the children shanties and hornpipes, and encouraging everyone to get involved.
Stroud College of Art beckoned, then a BA Fine Art at UWE Bristol. This time paying his own way through with IT marketing consultancy and art commissions. Stephen’s final show was sold to a collector in the USA. Many commissions followed and he has also been appointed artist-in-residence at a number of institutions, from Stroud to Australia. His work is interdisciplinary – incorporating drawing, sculpture, photography, sound, music, dance, film, drama.
Thus began a new phase in his career, artist/consultant. Making work, enabling others to make work using his many skills acquired in industry – project management, PR, teaching, training, and providing consultancy to organisations.
Much of his schools and community activity is concerned with cultural heritage. This includes collections, archives, historical monuments and local history. He is especially interested in the ‘intangible’ cultural heritage – oral history, folk traditions and customs. Notable projects in this field include:
- Comm FM, Cam FM and Stroud FM – founding community radio stations;
- Take 6 – Education officer for national folk song project with EFDSS;
- Founding the Taborers Society and The International Pipe and Tabor Festival;
- Founding the Mummers Unconvention and the International Mummers Festival;
- Single Gloucester – Education project for on-line archive of all the folk songs and tunes collected in Gloucestershire.
- Rose Moresk – recreation of Tudor morris dance.
Building on his European experiences, Stephen is active on the continent and he frequently travels, taking English traditions abroad, or researching the local culture. He is completely at home teaching English early music in Germany, English folk dance in Paris collecting hobby horses and giants in Spain, performing concerts in Slovakia or playing for processions in Catalunya. Further afield he has made a special study of Australian Aboriginal art.
Early music – played on replica instruments, rock music, dance band, traditional folk, English, Spanish, French, Stephen is not too sure of how many instruments he actually plays. Some are familiar, like the guitar, but most of come into the category of ‘instruments I have to explain‘.
Outside of his art world, he never sits down long enough to watch a film. A keen sailor he has made many long ocean voyages, navigating by sextant. He loves stargazing and astrophotography. Food is an enthusiasm – growing it and preparing it. On a practical front, in recent years he built an oak-framed extension to his house, and is currently converting a VW bus into a campervan.
… walking the dogs, and thinking about the next project.