Exaggerated brush strokes, vivid colours and sinuous linework each play a fundamental role in the development of Rowena Martinich’s large-scale public artworks.
Whether her pieces are splashed across the side of a four-storey building or printed on glass inside a bustling Melbourne café, Rowena believes the more accessible she can make her artform, the better it is received.
The Jan Juc artist, who has worked in collaboration with the likes of Nike, Mecca Cosmetica, Dulux, Bombay Sapphire and Eleven Australia, began her career studying graphic design before returning to the hobby she picked up as a child – painting.
“I’ve always loved art. I had a really good art teacher in secondary school, and he really brought it out in me. I was a boarder at school, and I used to love going to the art rooms – it was my little place of refuge,” says new mum Rowena, who moved to the Surf Coast about six years ago.
“I studied graphic design at university thinking that that would be a creative career and I sort of found it was quite different to what I thought it would be. From there I went to painting and absolutely loved it. I was always painting in my spare time anyway, so to actually study it was a really great experience for me.”
But it wasn’t until Rowena completed her masters in public art at RMIT University that she discovered the limitations of displaying artwork in a traditional gallery space.
During her studies, Rowena operated an experimental art space in Fitzroy.
She says this is where her love for paintings of dramatic size first started.
“I guess that’s where my career really focussed into doing the really largescale works in the public space, and really blowing my paintings up from works on canvas to works on sides of buildings,” she says.
“I always thought there was lots of opportunities to show work outside the traditional gallery space, but I never knew how to translate my work. I think that doing that public art course was a fantastic niche for me to work into because it consolidated all my random ideas.
“Just getting people into a gallery is no mean feat. A lot of people are intimidated by art spaces – I think it’s just foreign to people and commercial galleries almost thrive on that – they like to be exclusive, whereas I really feel that the more accessible you can make your art practice, the better.”
Rowena, who is best-known for her dripping veil artworks, says her most recent body of work, “Colourboss”, was quite a departure from her previous pieces.
“I wanted to push past that (dripping veil artworks) and take another direction. Last year I started covering the floor in canvas and painting on the floor. I began pouring out buckets of paint and brushing it out with brooms.”
While she often takes on high-profile individual projects, Rowena also collaborates with husband and fellow painter, Geoffrey Carran.
Having met on a RMIT mural site when Rowena was mentoring students and Geoffrey was teaching art classes out of the institution, Rowena says the couple have been inseparable since.
“We both did masters at the same time, but we never met. We even graduated four people apart. It was sort of like the universe was keeping us separate until it was the right time,” she says smiling inside her studio at Ashmore Arts.
“Our practices are very different, but we do share a love of colour and there’s something about what we do that people respond to when we work together – it brings another element to both of our practices.”
About 12 months ago, the couple merged their artforms to create a mural in Dandenong’s Little India Precinct.
Geoffrey’s imagery of Australian birds and plants set against Rowena’s striking bright hues harmonise the duo’s distinctive set of artistic skills.
Most recently, Rowena completed an artwork for Epworth Geelong. She is currently collaborating with local surfboard maker Shyama Buttonshaw.
Rowena and Geoffrey, who will both be participating in this year’s Surf Coast Arts Trail (Saturday August 10 and Sunday August 11), are embracing the new challenges of parenthood after welcoming their first child, Finley, in January.
Their studio is located at 55 B Ashmore Road, Torquay. For more information on Rowena, head to martinich.com.au.