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, delivering his first product in 1987. This development relied heavily on the internet – several years before the world wide web.
Later he rose to become European marketing manager and founding a $200m business for Digital Equipment Corp.
A pioneer in the field of computer security, his work took him all over the world. Always taking 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, Stephen became involved in the Ocean Youth Club and Shaftesbury Homes as afterguard on sail training vessels. In 1992 he 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 Canaries he became 1st mate on a 1926 Dutch schooner carrying cargo to the Caribbean. Probably the last C20th commercial cargo crossing of the Atlantic under sail. He crossed the Atlantic again in 2005, with a crew of teenagers in the Tall Ships Race.
Returning from 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.
Formal art training began at Stroud College of Art followed by a BA Fine Art at Bristol. Stephen’s final show was sold to a collector in the USA. Many commissions followed and he has also been appointed artist-in-residence for a number of schools, institutions and museums, in the UK, France and Australia. His work is interdisciplinary – encompassing drawing, sculpture, photography, sound, music, dance, film, drama.
Subject matter is never an issue for an artist that has travelled widely with an enquiring mind. Science and the sea are two main threads.
In addition to making work, he also strives enable others, using his many skills acquired in industry – through 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.
Stephen is the leading provider of Australian indigenous art and storytelling workshops in the UK through his website www.aboriginalworkshops.com
Other notable projects in this field include:
- Stephen founded three community radio stations – Comm FM, Cam FM and Stroud FM.
- Take 6 – Education officer for national folk song project with EFDSS;
- Founder of the Taborers Society and The International Pipe and Tabor Festival;
- Founder of the Mummers Unconvention and the International Mummers Festival;
- Hobby Horses – Artist in Residence for the Hobby Horse Festival, and organiser of the Sidmouth Horse Trials.
- Single Gloucester – Education project for on-line archive of all the folk songs and tunes collected in Gloucestershire.
- Rose Moresk – re-creation of Tudor morris dance.
- Lead Creative Schools residency in Fishguard creating a mathematical game based on the Battle of the Atlantic.
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, cavorting hobby horses and giants in Spain, performing concerts in Slovakia or playing for processions in Catalunya.
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. His collection numbers over 300. 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 – both growing it and preparing it. On a practical front, in recent years he has built an oak-framed extension to his house and converted a VW ambulance into a campervan.
He raises funds and awareness for the British Heart Foundation and Bowel Cancer charities. London to Brighton Bike Ride
… walking the dogs, writing music, and thinking about the next project.