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Behind the scenes with the Australian who designs for kings

A boy who grew up in a small village on North Stradbroke Island surrounded by a community of artists is leaving his mark on some of the most prestigious hotels and residences in the world.

Gold Coast’s Palazzo Versace, Fiji’s ultra-exclusive Laucala Island resort; the home of the daughter of the King of Johor in Malaysia, and Ukraine’s wealthiest man, are just some of the properties Rodney Surawski from Artnow International has designed.

For more than three decades he has worked quietly and tirelessly around the world creating places that look like you’ve walked straight into a fairy tale. A job that has up until recently been shrouded in secrecy.

Hand-painted art by Artnow International
Hand-painted art by Artnow International

Humble beginnings

Growing up on North Stradbroke Island, Rodney was always surrounded by artists.

He laughs as he recalls how his mother took him to his first life drawing class when he was just seven years old. Over the years, his siblings all turned to careers in trucking and machinery, but Rodney had other ideas.

After studying fine art, he went into the film industry and says it had a profound influence on his work today.

“You are reproducing an entire environment and atmosphere, so you have to be skilled at doing that … being able to create a bespoke finish.”

Those lessons in creating a bespoke space would see him working on some of the most expansive, intricate designs in the world and launching his now internationally respected design studio, Artnow International in the Gold Coast.

Every space Artnow International touches looks fit for a king

A royal break

“My biggest job came when I was invited to work with the royal family in Malaysia and then asked to produce artwork for the King of Bahrain.”

As the business grew, he opened studios in the Gold Coast, Melbourne and Italy, and also has a team of artists and sculptors in the United States.

For Versace, they hand-painted marble and gold work, and in Ukraine, at Rinat Akhmetov’s home, there were 30 artists working on the property at one time.

At Laucala Island, where the likes of Oprah and Arnold Schwarzenegger have holidayed, Roger worked for two years on the fossilised walls, water features and spa area.

His latest work on a private home on the Gold Coast hinterland is a ten-year project, “… because they want it done right, so they are in no rush”.

There’s ironwork from Germany, a hand-painted ceiling, hand-crafted indoor pillars and a custom-made chandelier. All of the dining chairs are handmade, and the client’s name is painted on each one.

Years is spent on each project Artnow International takes on.

Going for gold

Rodney says there are now a lot of people in Australia who want this level of grandeur in their homes.

“The level of homes is getting bigger and grander. I think minimalism became such a big thing in Australia and there’s a big turn now.

“Clients want to show their journey in their life and who they are and their collection of where they have been, and so when someone comes into their house it’s a story of their life.”

Homes that replicate resorts like Laucala Island (above) are in hot demand, as people seek to reflect their own story

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