Walk into his studio, and you’ll find him covered in paint, barefoot, listening to Joy Division, with a quiver of six boards in the corner. Often, the pieces of artwork being created simultaneously rivals the number of boards in the quiver. Though just shy of forty, Rowan is often mistaken for a twenty-something surfer with his boyish good looks and perpetual salty sunburn. The age is a mistake, the surfer part is not. Locally, he’s known in the lineup as a charger who likes nothing more than draining barrels; yet a few minutes with this unique and innovative entrepreneur show there is more to him than his righteous ability to get shacked.
As the owner and sole proprietor of Fiona Bleu Gallery since 2001, he is genuine and engaging with every customer who enters the shop- creating an open environment in which art, philosophy, politics, religion and music are all conversational fodder. In “the shop”, as Rowan calls it, art, music, and design meld into a wondrous experience intended to shift perception and shake people out of their comfort zones.
His painting collections include fluid, watery, abstracts juxtaposed with bold, solid, heavily textured pieces. In recent years he has ventured into the realm of the tangible world, painting landscapes and seascapes through a lens of saturated color and subjective value. Vivid, bold, bright, colorful- to eavesdrop on people as they view Rowan’s seascapes is to listen to a litany of synonyms for chromatic decadence.
Surfing, Rowan’s first love, is the muse that breathes life into the seascapes he paints. Local Central Coast surfers will look The Reef or Chaney Cypress and know the break, be able to feel the wave forming, and perhaps even mentally throw some spray. Other compositions draw inspiration from places a little further off the beaten path: the ethereal Portugese wave in Left Peak, Hawaiian Haleakala, or the foggy Mendocino inlet in Cypress Cove.
Rowan is often asked how he decided to become an artist. Growing up on a few thousand acres between Paso Robles and Cambria in the 1970s, luxuries were sparse- no hot running water, no electricity, and nine siblings to contend with. Entertainment was roaming the woods with his hatchet at age three, chopping down trees and building small boats to float upon the creek which ran through the family property, experimenting with the media nature provided.
Today, Rowan is still building. His experiments have blossomed into delightful aluminum mobiles, whose elegantly balanced biomorphic shapes dance and float superbly in a gentle breeze. Paintings have evolved into mid-century modern influenced lighting- large barrel drum shades showcase his artwork in a practical fashion. Even the repurposed cork counter over which Rowan will converse with gallery visitors was once flooring, spied by the keen eye of the artist and transformed into something useful and beautiful.
Surf, create, share, repeat. In response to the question of how he decided to become an artist, Rowan will tell the inquirer: “I’ve always been an artist. Around twenty five I realized I had to do something with my life, and I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing. I wanted to build something. I made this work because I had to make it work- I put everything into it, and then I had no other option.” Surveying the treasure-trove of paintings, mobiles, lighting, sculpture, all which seem to pour forth from the artist, unbidden, I am inclined to agree: he has no option but to create- and from that, we all can benefit.
To see more of Rowan’s work check out his website.