‘We need the arts’ - artist and NUA academic Carl Rowe, on his work

Carl Rowe, in the screen-printing studios at Norwich University of the Arts. Picture: Andi Sapey

Carl Rowe, in the screen-printing studios at Norwich University of the Arts. - Credit: Andi Sapey

Each week I speak to a Norwich local making an impact on the visual arts. This week, artist and academic Carl Rowe.

1. How would you best describe your role within the arts community?

I often refer to myself as an artist/academic. I have a studio at OUTPOST, situated in Anglia Square, and I have worked at Norwich University of the Arts for over 20 years. In recent years, I have worked in healthcare environments, further widening the impact my artistic practice has within the broader scope of community.

The lovely thing about the arts community in Norwich is that paths frequently cross and small hybrid projects spring up along the way.

BE, screen-print, acrylic and wall text, Carl Rowe, commissioned by Hospital Rooms for Northside Hou

BE, screen-print, acrylic and wall text, Carl Rowe, commissioned by Hospital Rooms for Northside House Forensic Mental Health Unit, Norwich, 2020. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

2. What do you love so much about the Norwich art scene?

Whenever I show friends and visitors around Norwich, I’ll proudly mention the range of exhibition and performance venues, the history of literature and printing, the two universities that do so much to promote world-class arts and all the other things that make the city so vital.

I invited Milika Muritu, director of London’s Cell Project Space, to give a talk to students. Milika said: “there is a good thing going on in Norwich” and what is possible in our city is no longer easily achievable in London.

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I love the openness of possibility. We have internationally renowned arts, but also (and crucially) we have grass-roots activity that maintains the rawness that is essential to a thriving creative city.

I think Norwich has been a place of tolerance, creativity and innovation for many centuries and that mindset endures.

3. How did you get where you are in your career?

I learned a trade – printmaking. I have worked hard at developing teaching skills, particularly in Higher Education. I didn’t have a career plan, but I could not conceive of working outside of a creative sphere.

I have moved around quite a bit, living in Manchester, London, Hastings and working all over the country, part-time at first and then full-time at Roehampton University working as a lecturer and Arts in Hospitals Projects Coordinator.

Over the past thirty-five years I have channelled a lot of my attention towards social and community projects, which has got me where I am right now.

I have also maintained my practice as an artist, balancing a commercial, social and philosophically challenging (i.e. non-commercial) approach to making art.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?

Be optimistic and open your eyes to possibilities. The last couple of years has shown us exactly how much we need the arts.

Survival is not just physical, it is about good mental health and creativity makes everything feel more worthwhile. So, I would say it is a very good time to be an artist. But don’t just look for jobs or opportunities, make things happen for yourself. Get advice from people, pick brains, volunteer and find out how things work, call in favours, trade your creativity for other services such as digital skills.

Adopt a social enterprise mentality and make a living out of good things that people really want.

5. What does an average weekday look like for you?

I could spend the whole day working in my studio on something that has a purpose or just something speculative and experimental. I could be developing a workshop for a healthcare location or holding a meeting with service providers and/or students.

Whatever the day has involved, I’ll switch to the kitchen in the evening and indulge my other driving force – cooking.

6. Where is your favourite spot in Norwich?

The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. I feel so alive when I visit the SCVA. But perhaps that is a predictable answer, so how about The Playhouse bar on a sunny summer evening.

7. Can you name one East Anglian creative whose work you admire?

I am aware of all the wonderful people I’m leaving out by choosing just one person. However, I do have admiration for Luke Abbott’s practice. I like the way his music parallels his exquisite sense of visual composition and use of colour.

He continues the early twentieth-century investigation into the symbiosis of abstract sound and vision that resonates with me (pardon the pun).

8. What’s the best exhibition you have been to in East Anglia recently?

Somewhere Unexpected: Norwich Castle Open. Not because my work was in it, but because it captured a feeling that  summed-up the weirdness of 2020 from the perspective of East Anglian artists.

It was a show that can never be repeated because it was the right thing at that moment. It was more than the sum of its parts and it conjured an eerie feeling.

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@carlroweart
www.carlrowe.co.uk