15 November 2009
Portrait of the artist as a young man... Jackson Rowe
Rowe, 23, is a VCA graduate, an award winning painter and grandson of the late Roger Kemp (a transcendental painter whose work is part of the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Australia). He is also the lead singer of blues/rock band, The Rackets. For the last couple of years he’s been working on a project which he has dubbed his ‘sci-fi’; a multimedia downloadable application that creates a fictional world of Melbourne as you are physically walking a city block.
The virtual tour, which he envisages being played on an iPhone, starts in Hosier Lane and consists of 660 steps which are taken to a beat and cover approximately 50 locations. ‘It’s quite composed writing; it’s more like a song. It’s very rhythmic...like poetry.’ Cities are ever changing and as Rowe found, little of the history he learnt about his block was relevant to the project. Instead, his Melbourne is a dark place where the veneer of civility can slip into an uncontrolled unravelling of reality. Spoken word, sounds effects and graphics will combine to create an “overload experience.”
In visual arts, perception is either immediate or delayed. Writing takes place mostly in the third section of perception; mimetic perception, that is, of the make believe.
Rowe talks about writing his sci-fi and it makes a lot more sense that way. Being dyslexic, he acknowledges that most of his learning has come from mentors rather than books, which he can read, but finds difficult to “consume”- especially character development. It’s clear that his thought process diverges from that of most book-learned people.
When I ask him which artists have influenced his work, he suggests that everything visual can be art before half joking that he’s not interested in which artists are responsible for the images on postcards in galleries, ‘I’m enjoying the experience of spinning the postcard stand around and looking at the images and .... If there is anyone to thank it’s the person working at the store.’ Later he describes borrowing a myriad of objects from his local library, laying them out and staring at them, ‘You know, I’m not going to force myself to consume information, it’s so easy, it’s everywhere.’
His words freewheel, seeming to skirt questions before honing in on something unexpected. He plays with words like “wi-fi gypsy” to describe creatives who want to pay no more than three dollars for a coffee but are loaded up with expensive technology as they sip their coffee. I’m sure that this is not an insult- he loves technology.
Dyslexics are often known to be create and multidimensional thinkers; a few cases in point, Da Vinci, Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg. Rowe’s dyslexia was diagnosed when he was about eight. For his final exams he had one person reading the exam questions, one person supervising and someone scribing his answers. ‘That whole experience from grade 3 to year 12, you can link it all together [as] a progression and the final stage is this really bizarre situation where you are in a room with three other people in a private space all trying to get this paper done.’ In a way, his ‘sci-fi sound-walk’ links back to that strange experience; it’s another step in an unorthodox way of communicating with the world.
His works have been well received; in 2007 he was awarded the Stella Dilger Trust prize from VCA, the year before that, a visual art prize from The Melbourne Fringe Festival. Currently he is playing video loops of Bladerunner in slow motion over canvas and painting the figures as they move; he describes the result as “gestural”, a bit like Jackson Pollock.
Throughout our conversation he mentions “referencing” a lot. There seems to be an urge to create content that is a reference point and a meeting place between his way of seeing the world and his audience’s. This extends both to his art and his secondary passion, music. The chorus from The Racket’s song Kill your TV hints at his frustration in communicating, ‘We’re all different people, you can say something to someone and they’ll hear a different thing.’ The band has featured on Triple J’s Unearthed competition and have frequent gigs around the city. As lead singer with no guitar to hide behind, Rowe uses his body as an instrument. He’s a fearless performer; there are costume changes, unbridled dancing, fake blood and theatrics. Most young men would shirk at that level of scrutiny and judgment. Rowe remains realistic, ‘A lot of people have really loved it, a lot of people have really hated it.’
For all his gifts, Rowe is humble. He’s terrified of blank canvas, still lives with his parents and when I tell him I want the interview to be a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he hopes it is a “truthful representation” of him.