by Helen Martin
England-born Helensville artist Michael Rowland first became interested in creative pursuits as a high school student at Hertfordshire’s Willian’s School. While his grandfather was a carver and his father was a skilled machine pattern maker, Michael’s interests lay in freehand and technical drawing and in architecture. Arriving in New Zealand with his family when he was 17, Michael first gained a Diploma in Graphic Art from A.I.T., then moved to Elam Art School, where he studied painting, sculpture, design and photography. He staged his first solo exhibition, where he sold his first three paintings, while working as a trainee in the Auckland City Art Gallery restoration department. After finding the work there technical rather than creative he left, making his living by doing “all kinds of jobs to survive”.
With his interest in drawing and painting always bubbling away in the background, Michael worked as a builder and house painter. Meanwhile he and his wife Jan, a primary school teacher, became adept at renovating old houses, which they bought as family homes and restored while they lived in them. Moving to Oratia twelve years ago, and with the children grown, Michael decided it was time to get serious about his painting and make it his full-time occupation. Since then he has regularly staged exhibitions, has won awards and has sold his work through galleries and commissions. Working in acrylic and oils, sometimes on six pieces at once. Michael has focused on realism in his work. “Realist painting is very challenging on so many levels,” he says. “I find abstraction decorative and I’m more of a traditionalist.” For the past eight years he has also been enjoying exploring the potential of surrealism. “What fascinates me these days is trying to bring a bit of a story into my work. I want to intrigue people and play with ideas on different levels.” His subjects include paying homage to the beauty of Auckland’s landscapes and its older buildings, built in a less-mechanised era, while an early interest in Hare Krishna beliefs informs his views on life, art and spirituality.
While their Oratia home was ‘paradise’, Michael and Jan made the move to Helensville in 2012, buying the beautiful historic Captain’s House built by Thomas Rawson, Captain of the steamship Lily, in the 1860s. Several owners had worked on restoring the house before them, so they didn’t have to start their renovations from scratch, but there was still much to be done, including thinning and replanting the garden, sorting out the drainage, completing redoing the kitchen and garage and more over three years’ hard grind.
Still a Helensville newcomer, Michael is enjoying becoming part of the small community and meeting like-minded people. “People are moving here all the time and adding to the flavour. I love the fact that there’s so much space, it’s quiet and clean, the traffic’s bearable and strangers talk to you. My plans for the future are really simple – to become more integrated into the community and to keep painting.”
Michael’s paintings can be seen at http://www.nkbgallery.co.nz/Artist/1423/