Silk road: Victoria Rowley on her provocative prints and the slow nature of making

Left, Octo. Right, Roman Relic
Left, Octo. Right, Roman Relic
(Image credit: Press)

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.

View of ’Haiku il Secondo’

'Haiku il Secondo', 2016

(Image credit: Press)

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.'

View of Pleasure Seeker’

'Pleasure Seeker', 2017

(Image credit: Press)

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.

Rowley’s Aubergine (left), Gold at London restaurant (right)

Installation view of Rowley's Aubergine (left) and Gold at London restaurant Nam Long Le Shaker

(Image credit: Press)

View of Two Slugs Mating

Two Slugs Mating, 2017

(Image credit: Press)


’Show Off Silks’ is on view until 2 March 2017. For more information, visit Victoria Rowley’s website


Nam Long Le Shaker
159 Old Brompton Road
London SW5 0LJ


Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.