It being 2017, things are difficult enough for young art graduates in London, career-wise. One imagines it's even more difficult to move into a medium as niche as oriental silk printing, and trickier still to cover these delicate silks with images of phalluses. Convention, or the easy path, doesn't seem to be Victoria Rowley's thing. At just 25, she has posed nude for photographer Grace Vane Percy, tried her hand at burlesque dancing and won an international graduate award for her London College of Fashion collection.
Now, her silk prints are the subject of a new exhibition at Opium Den, a bar housed in the basement of Pan Asian restaurant Nam Long Le Shaker. The South Kensington hotspot gained cult status in the 1980s, attracting thirsty celebrities with its potent 'Flaming Ferrari' cocktail, still on the menu. Rowley's colourful silks line the walls, at once standing out and fitting in, among an amalgam of Oriental and Western artworks.
'Haiku il Secondo', 2016
Aptly entitled 'Show Off Silks', the exhibition is a provocative one, wherein orchids bloom around patterned phalluses and abstract images of slugs suck their way across delicate swathes of material. 'I'm trying to take the humour out of these sexual subjects,' Rowley explains of her expressive works.
They're certainly not funny. They're brave, imaginative and multifaceted. Their three-dimensional nature is partly down to the complex compositional process Rowley has developed, using layers and layers of Procion dyes. She enjoys 'the slow nature of making. Something that comes into being with immediate effect wouldn't work for me.'
'Pleasure Seeker', 2017
Considering how so many of her contemporaries are moving into the digital sphere, such a physical, handcrafted process is particularly important to her. Rowley speaks of how artists today fixate too much on 'the newness of things, on brightness and pureness'. Her work has an antique quality to it (despite the punchy, modern subject matter) and is presented in museum-like Perspex boxes.
Perhaps this is why her works look so at home in their unusual surroundings, where international curios abound. There's a sense of theatre that gels with Rowley's boldly performative works and fearless personality. It's exciting to see an ancient medium like silk printing being placed in such capable, contemporary hands.