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Kenneth Rowell

In their own words

Recorded 1973

Kenneth Rowell
Audio: 2 minutes

Early on, at the beginning of my career, I really wasn’t interested in painting at all. Quite simply I was stagestruck and for a long time that’s really all I wanted to do, I just wanted to work in the theatre, I was mad about the theatre. That seemed enough for a few years, or perhaps for ten years, and then I became terribly conscious of the fact that I was working in a medium that you can never be wholly in charge of as a designer or a producer or a choreographer; you’re one of a number of collaborators working together on a production. And I became more and more interested in the idea of painting because that seemed to me to be something where I could be in charge of a medium and express myself in a way that, much as I love working in the theatre, I would never have that final control about what the statement was. So I started to try and paint and I worked terribly hard. I took myself out of the theatre because I could see that the only way of developing a technique and trying to find a direction as a painter was really to get right out of the theatre for a few years. I did that, and people in the English theatre thought I was mad, but I felt it was something I absolutely had to do.

The paintings I did for the first few years were really not good at all. But I worked very hard, I developed a technique. I simply work in the theatre when I’m offered work that I want to do and when I’m not doing that, I’m up in the studio painting for all I’m worth.

I know that this work I do as a painter nourishes all my theatre work, the colours even that I’ve used in the Sleeping Beauty which are very – particularly in the prologue and scenes like that – absolutely strong, chromatic colours I know I don’t see in other theatre. I can only use these because of all I’ve learned as a painter. Anyway, the thing is that both forms of activity now are absolutely necessary to me. People don’t particularly want you to work in two different media but it’s something that I absolutely need.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Kenneth Rowell is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Kenneth Rowell AM

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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