A Monument to Greatness: Nine Minutes with Iona Rowland

A monumental public artwork by British artist Iona Rowland has been unveiled in London’s Seven Dials. The mural was commissioned by Seven Dials to celebrate 90 years since the publication of Agatha Christie’s iconic novel ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’.

The dramatic large-scale painting comprises multiple layers of acrylic and spray paint, over which the artist has silk screen printed an archival image of Christie taken in 1926. With each screen print the image subtly changes, shifting according to where the viewer is standing.

The artist says ‘the repetition and transposing of imagery communicates Christie’s dynamic and multi-faceted nature. It celebrates her as a creative literary force, but also as a woman at the start of her career, evolving, adapting, becoming.’

We caught up with Iona Rowland to get the story behind this amazing public tribute.

Iona, how would you describe the ethos of your artistic practice?

Community and public engagement have become central to my work. Where possible I like to build connections with the subjects featured in the work, the commissioners, and most importantly the people that encounter it. A great way of doing this is through public engagement events – I really like to meet people face to face, have real life discussions about the work, and build meaningful relationships. These events might be artist talks, panel discussions, workshops or mentoring days. Ultimately it’s about making work which is accessible, educational and inspirational.

How did you come to be involved with the Seven Dials Agatha Christie project?

Seven Dials approached me about me about the commission as they were keen to give the Agatha Christie campaign a contemporary twist – they liked the idea of reimagining a historic figure in a contemporary context. My process is centred around remix methodologies utilised in early hip hop music, and for this project I applied resampling techniques to an archival image of Agatha Christie taken in 1926. I think the ‘mash-up’ of old and new reflects the layered histories of the Seven Dials district, an area I’ve come to know and love in recent months. It really is a hub of creative activity. When I’m not in the studio, I always try and work there, either in Boki or Redemption Bar.

Are you an Agatha Christie fan?

This project opened my eyes to the genius of Agatha Christie. What really struck me when researching her life and work was her ability to overcome adversity, particularly in her early years. She was incredibly committed to her craft and went on to become the best selling novelist of all time. Her focus and determination was incredible – it really inspired me. I felt such a connection with her when making the piece. I’ll forever be a fan.

Did the brief dictate what elements needed to be included in the project, or were you given free reign to create?

I knew the piece had to feature Agatha Christie as it was celebrating 90 years since the publication of her iconic novel ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’, but otherwise I was given total creative freedom. As with all of my works, a lot of the creative process was improvisatory – it’s all about chance. I make painterly marks using a myriad of objects from palette knives to squeegees and also paint directly through the silk screen so you can never really predict what the piece will look like in the end. This is the most exciting bit for me – the unknown.

What characteristics come to mind when you think of Agatha Christie?

Dynamic, powerful, creative, human. For me, she epitomises the multi-faceted nature of the female experience.

You’re running a series of events based around the commission; tell us about these. 

Seven Dials are running a really exciting events programme for International Women’s Day around the #BalanceForBetter theme. I’ll be leading a series of free workshops which give participants an insight into the process behind ‘The Evolution of Agatha Christie’. I’ll guide people through the process of ‘cutting and pasting’ images, symbols and literature of personal significance to form a visual soundtrack which reflects their passions, aspirations, skills, values, and memories. Referencing remix methods used in early hip hop music and William S. Burroughs’ literary ‘cut-up technique’, they will create a unique and personal work of art to take home. The workshops will take place in the #BalanceForBetter hub, located at 33 Monmouth Street which will be fitted with a contactless charity donation with donations going to the amazing Fawcett Society. For. You can find more information on IWD.SevenDials.co.uk

Why do you feel that Agatha Christie should be celebrated by a contemporary audience?

Agatha Christie’s work is universal, it unites people from all over the world. Her novels offer a moment of escapism and discovery – something we’re all in need of at the moment. I hope that by depicting her at the start of her career on the periphery of greatness, contemporary audiences will relate to her ‘humanness’ and approach their own craft in the same uncompromising way. I think we should celebrate both her work, and her journey.

Tell us what the next few months holds for you.

To coincide with Battersea’s Spring Affordable Art Fair, I’ll be unveiling a huge mural at Boom Cycle in Battersea Power Station’s West Village. I’ve worked with Boom Cycle’s co-founder Hilary to create a piece which is as immersive as taking a Boom Cycle class – it’s like a rave on canvas. We’re hosting a ‘BOOM ART NIGHT’ on 7 March where people can hear all about the process behind the work, enjoy some old school hip hop, and of course cocktails.

Join the party at Boom Cycle in Battersea Power Station’s Circus West Village from 7.30pm on Thursday 7 March – the event is open for all, no tickets required.

To attend one of Iona’s International Women’s Day remix workshops, click here.

ionarowlandart.com @ionarowlandart