This article was first printed in PETRIe 66 (2014). Part four of a five-part article.
Designer Lee Rowland describes himself as an Art Engineer. Joining British Aerospace as an aircraft toolmaker at the age of 16, the red-haired and inventive artist acquired a solid understanding of mechanics, which he later went on to combine with the world of creative design.
Rowland has certainly forged his own as an Art Engineer. Leaving Central Saint Martin's eight months into his MA after being told by tutors that his work "wasn't good enough," Rowland explains how nowadays he "generally does his own thing as an artist." Emphasising such diversity has been central to his career: "I value the basic engineering craft that a lot of designers miss out on. Just having that basic engineering knowledge allows you to make anything." Inviting tasks that challenge him as an artist, he exhibits his determination: "I'm not going to fail, that's always been at the forefront – my drive basically."
Rowland is responsible for a number of innovative furniture creations, including 'The Watch Table' - which looks exactly how you imagine. However, not confined to furniture alone, Rowland draws heavily upon his engineering expertise when turning his tools to the artistic area of mask making. His designs have sought to display, as well as disguise, an individual's identity. In a method utilising copper and electro-conducting paint, Rowland has been able to create thin-skinned copper impressions of people's faces. "You can go on to create a mask that matches the face absolutely perfectly - it's quite spooky," he laughs.
In 1993, at just 23 years old, Rowland was commissioned to design stage wear for Ice T's rock band, Body Count. Taking inspiration from Marvel's Ghost Rider, Rowland was tasked with producing a mask to convey a new stage identity for the band's bass player. "For his stage act he called himself the executioner," Rowland begins.
"It was a gangster, criminalised sort of thing. We found an image that seemed to embody that feeling: an aggressive skeleton face - and used that as a template." Exaggerating one part of the identity allows the individual to suppress others: "It all feeds back to identity and wanting to shield it," Rowland admits. "It creates anonymity."
Drawing upon his personal passion for making accessories - from weaponry and body armour - the mask and oak casket were hand-forged using copper, titanium, aluminium, bronze and steel, then lined with 22ct gold plating - a process that took four attempts to perfect. The five-digit price tag is justified by the 450 hours it took to craft: "You just can't manufacture things like that quickly," he explains.
Indeed, the sheer time afforded to this mask makes it one of Rowland's favourite pieces to date: "Something you make in a few hours and can just produce at anytime kind of loses its appeal - anything I've made in a few hours has never really done it for me."
Archive: PETRIe INVENTORY 66
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photography: Daniel Lehenbauer