Today’s world is too often lived in a highly compartmentalized and fragmented manner that distances us from a deeper reality and a greater harmony. How does one reconcile home and work life, complexity and simplicity, joy and suffering, the known and the unknown of the things we see, feel, and believe? Lowe’s work bridges the divide between what we know and feel, inviting us to a deeper discourse and to discover connections. Through her use of images and painterly techniques she blends and contrasts experiences from within and without. She uses the pairing of complementary and contrasting ideas with archetypal symbols to recall the metaphysical world. Everyday objects—birds, bowls, plants, stones—are married with abstract, gestural marks, and her line drawings seem to record, map, or chart familiar and distant places and events. Together these function as clues to record and decode the meaning of the life – from the macro to micro level, from the universal to the individual. This kind of exploration and discovery are characteristics that make her work mysterious and compelling.
Travel and memory of places are very important resources for Lowe’s art. Her travels have taken her many times into Tibet and China, as well as Bhutan, India, Vietnam, Morocco, South America and many other places that continue to influence her imagery. In her Wall and Enso series paintings she works with nearly abstract images inspired by photographs she’s taken of walls in the locations she’s visited. Realism is abandoned nearly altogether allowing her to work intuitively and asking the same of the viewer. Yet her abstract marks and forms are grounded in reality, literally, through the materials and techniques she uses which recall the walls themselves.
In Lowe’s new series Flying and Falling and the Patra vessels myth and symbol are particularly prevalent. The images used here conjure up memories embedded in the depths of the human psyche. The interweaving of objects, color, forms, and text emphasize the interconnected and independent nature of life in both an intuitive and objective manner. Her renderings of mathematical formulas and scientific equations are etched into the surface of the paintings denoting calculated reason. The juxtaposition of primitive, abstract marks with textual fragments functions as subliminal messages do, spoken sotto voce, barely audible, but legible. This is all brought together through Lowe’s lushly painted surfaces and images which record what is literal and yet not literal, what we see and cannot see.
Lowe takes us to a place where reality and illusion are in constant interplay. And, at the same time, her art transports us to a meditative place. The intellect and the heart are both at work in her paintings. She invites the viewer to experience a visual forum, reconciling what is often irreconcilable, where the paradox of life can be contemplated.
This 32 page catalog was published by Gail Severn Gallery for the 2010 exhibition Psi: The Uncertainty Principle. Essay by Margaret Hawkins and interview by Jane Milosch.
Lynda Lowe: What Meets the Eye, by Margaret Hawkins, 2010
I was drawn to Lynda Lowe’s work the first time I saw it. I liked the way it refused to fit into any category, amalgamating nature painting, abstraction and still life into one, and the way it vibrated with energy yet held still at its core. Later during a Ragdale residency I got to see work in progress, and I was drawn in further, but the mystery, the nut of the work only began to open to me when I visited Lowe’s studio, on an island outside Seattle, Washington, seven months later. Or more exactly the Eureka moment came not in the studio but on the road later that day when, as we returned from a trip to explore a strip of ocean coastline, Lowe began to recite verbatim from Chapter Two of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard’s book-length essay on nature and seeing. This passage, delivered as the artist navigated a four-wheel drive vehicle through twisty mountain roads, begins with a recollection of Dillard’s childhood game of hiding pennies so that a stranger might later find them and receive “a free gift from the universe.” It ends as follows:
“If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.”
Lowe may have been quoting Dillard that day but she was talking about herself. This attention to detail, this scheming to cause others to pay attention, this act of planting a small treasure for the purpose of dislodging joy from the pattern of the commonplace so that some future wayfarer, some observant stranger, might come across it and be pleased, this fanatical curiosity, this addiction to observation paired with a generosity of spirit that makes the possessor of joy wish to pass it along to another like-minded soul, this sense of the spiritual in the everyday, is, of course, exactly what Lowe is all about.
Lowe’s lush paintings of natural objects begin, surprisingly, not in nature but in language, that engine of thought. Her orderly observations of the physical world come not from a desire to imitate its appearance but from a need to trace it back to its inchoate origins.
Lowe’s queries thus range toward physics and metaphysics. If most painters think about their work in relation to other artists’, Lowe cites Hegel, Newton, Galileo, Rilke and T.S. Eliot as her inspiration. The bookshelves in her studio contain more science, philosophy and poetry – including well-thumbed and annotated copies of The Illustrated Richard Feynman and David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous”– than they do art history. In particular, Lowe is interested in the experience of perception. She wants to know what it means to see, maybe because she takes so much pleasure in it. Her paintings are an ongoing investigation into the phenomenon that Abram describes as “the reversibility of subject and object”. This idea, that “the perceiving being and the perceived being are of the same stuff,” holds that seeing is not an act by a conscious being on an inert object but an exchange between consciousnesses, an assumption which, when accepted literally, is radically transforming. It suggests a vibrantly alive universe in which every thing, every being, every molecule is inter-reactive. It says that we change a thing simply by observing it, or in Lowe’s case, by painting it, and that it changes us.
So it is that Lowe’s paintings of simple things, like leaves and birds, sticks and stones, plumb bobs and tea bowls, leave us thinking about what she calls the “fluid acts of giving and receiving,” about the seamless nature of time and space and about how matter comes into existence.
Though not at first. What the newcomer to Lowe’s work encounters first is beauty. Peter Schjeldahl has said that beauty is an event that happens to an object. Lowe orchestrates this event. She does it to arrest our attention, to make us see beauty in simple things, and thus slow our attention. That’s what beauty can do. It makes us linger. Once we get used to it, once its dramatic, harmonizing effects on the body subside, we find ourselves broken open a little and into that broken space ideas about perception can sift up from below, slowly, from the stillness of the work.
This stepped, layered response to Lowe’s paintings mimics how they are made, except in reverse. We enter the paintings at their endpoint. Their highly polished surfaces draw us in and down, as if into a well or a mine. We have the sensation of submersion, of diving or falling into them, excavating through their hard polish to get to increasingly soft layers below.
In order, here is what we see as we descend. First, on top, float highly realistic, painstakingly rendered bits of the natural and mechanical world. Flowers, leaves, birds, calipers, Japanese ink brushes, tea bowls – each object is precious and perfect; we want to linger here. But after awhile this layer gives way to the space below or behind it and opens out into pools of deeply luminescent color. Our eyes swim in deep all-color blacks, in Chinese red or hot ocean blue. From these seas of color we continue to travel though space and, eventually, if we look long enough we reach an airier place where bits and scraps of mostly undecipherable text seem to whisper to us. We don’t always know the language they speak but we sense their meaning: beneath all this beauty is reason. Then we notice an even fainter sound or sign. Around the edges and incised deep into the surface of these painted panels are obscured symbols and ciphers, equations, plans, diagrams. There, underneath everything else, is design. We just can’t know it.
The sensation of traveling through this palimpsest of information is like peering through a murky medium, say pond water or fog, to successively deeper layers of meaning. It takes time, and by taking time it makes us think about time. It makes us think about the time it takes to make a painting of a flower for instance, or the time it takes to make the universe or, more to the point, the time it takes the universe to make a perfect flower.
And there, half-submerged, is Lowe’s truth, like some strange and half-visible life form creeping across the ocean floor. From the formless soup of universal possibility, she tells us, emerges the astounding beauty of the gorgeous particular. A yellow magnolia blossom. A pomegranate. A leaf.
This deeply satisfying conclusion is not accomplished so much through Lowe’s scholarly approach to ideas as it is through the more visceral medium of paint. Whether she intends it or not, Lowe’s work speaks most deeply on a sensual and personal level. Its power comes not only from its considerable beauty and intelligence but from the tension we feel between the artist’s maddeningly specific perfectionism and her eleventh-hour surrender to the wild messiness of the cosmos. We sense a very personal and poignant war here, one in which the spontaneous comet-like brushstroke added at the end of a painting over a trompe-l’oeil rendering of a yellow magnolia blossom acknowledges a world of struggle in which order competes with chaos, control with accident, West with East, and noise with stillness. This final paradox gives the work an extra twist of complexity that makes it as psychologically compelling as it is philosophically so.
Finally, of course, Lowe’s effort to control even the meta-universe that is a painting cannot hold. Just as she has transformed and been transformed by what she has observed, so we the viewer transform it again by viewing it. It spins out of control and what we see is always and forever different from what she painted. But Lowe’s paintings mark an ambitious and unique moment of creation. She spins specificity out of infinity and by doing so dares us all to go backwards to the beginning.
Margaret Hawkins is a Chicago-area writer, critic and curator. Her work appears in the Chicago Sun-Times, ARTnews, New Art Examiner, and a number of other national and international publications. She teaches Art History, Theory and Criticism at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the author of several books including: Lydia’s Party, A Year of Cats and Dogs and How to Survive a Natural Disaster.
This 24 page catalog was published by Northern Illinois University Museum for the 2002 exhibition Lynda Lowe Recent Work. Essays by Ann Weins and commentary by Leonard Slain.
The Subjectivity of Objects: Lynda Lowe’s Form and Measure, by Ann Wiens, 2002
“Time and light are the same thing somewhere behind our backs. And form is measure. -Charles Wright
It is one of the most basic elements of human nature to impose order upon what we perceive as chaos. We turn to language first, naming every object, concept, action, and emotion that defines our existence, comforted by the power of words: by naming things, we believe we control them. We turn to architecture, imposing an orderly grid of named and numbered streets and buildings over the seemingly chaotic landscape of unruly hills, forests, and rivers. We measure everything, and make maps to visualize the abstract, bringing that which is too large or too small into our limited human scale: galaxies, continents, and towns, our DNA. We break our world down into increasingly tiny increments, deconstructing it and categorizing it with a fierce conviction that the key to its mystery is hidden within its separate parts, that knowledge is power, and that we will gain control as soon as we understand enough. But the more we discover, the more we realize remains undiscovered, and the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know-herein, for those of a certain temperament, lies the thrill.
“When something ceases to be mysterious, it ceases to be of absorbing concern to scientists. Almost all the things scientists think and dream about are mysterious” -Freeman Dyson, Physicist
Lynda Lowe’s paintings are explorations of the points at which processes of artistic and scientific investigation merge. While science and art are often perceived as philosophical opposites-the objective, analytical, linear progression of a scientific theory to its indisputable conclusion versus the subjective, intuitive, whimsical manifestation of an artistic idea in physical form – any visionary artist or scientist will acknowledge the vast common ground between the two. Without intuition and subjectivity, science is doomed to repeat itself indefinitely, to stagnate. Art without the deliberate, focused pursuit of an intellectually defined concept will suffer the same fate. It is this common ground that both disciplines must occupy in order to progress, this rigorous process of questioning, challenging, experimenting, and adjusting our perceptions accordingly, that Lowe’s work addresses.
“We will not cease our exploration And the end to all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Eliot
Lowe is interested in the poetic, philosophical aspects of math and science; the questioning and problem-solving processes are more intriguing to her than the ultimate results of the quest. The same is true for her painting-the final result that hangs in the gallery is but a record of the process, a record to be read by the viewer, who, in examining the work, may experience that process as well. Although Lowe purposefully reminds viewers of the “objectness” of the paintings themselves-insetting small frames within larger ones, endowing each work with a seductively tactile surface that begs to be stroked-she also studiously avoids the inclusion of actual objects in her works, preferring painterly representations of nature to the actual thing. Like science, this work is not about nature itself, but about our questioning of it.
“Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer’s frame of reference.” -Arthur Koestler
Each of these paintings takes as its subject a broad scientific principle-counting, motion, gravity, growth, measurement-and presents it as a collection of images and symbols, meant to be grasped intuitively as a whole. “Counting” combines references to mathematical development from a marked animal bone through the famed “Golden Section” theory of ideal artistic proportion to the binary system. “Momentum and Gravity” draws parallels between the gravity-defying act of a bird flying and the related but paradoxical laws upon which a plumb bob and pendulum rely, combined with layers of ancient language that, while unreadable to today’s viewers, may immediately be understood as representations of scientific ideas and as records of scientific progression through history.
In these works, traditionally “artistic” representations of objects combine seamlessly with images such as graphs and diagrams not usually associated with “art” and sensuous, beautifully painted surfaces to provide a concise visual experience, a reminder that our intellect and our intuition resemble one another far more than they differ.
Ann Wiens is a former editor of the New Art Examiner, artist, and writer in Chicago.
Parallel Visions, by Leonard Shlain
The twentieth century has witnessed astonishing advancement in our ideas about the nature of reality. Many of these concepts are so strange and exist beyond our ken that we cannot fathom what exactly our scientists have discovered. The space-time continuum, quantum jumpings and gravity as a warp in space-time are so foreign to everyday experiences that simple word explanations fail. It is into this gap that a number of visionary artists have leaped. Lynda Lowe’s work falls under this rubric. In images that are extremely painterly and painstakingly wrought, she conveys the ideas of this new science.
Marshall McLuhan once noted that the artist is the person of integrated awareness in a society. Combining the two great creative currents Art and Science, Lynda Lowe diverts these seemingly parallel streams into one great river. Her art conflates rich images that have within them the ideas about science. Her palette is subdued as if to invite contemplation of the deeper meaning of her works. Like all great art, Lowe’s works operate on several levels at once. The viewer’s right hemisphere relishes in the sensuous, quiet beauty of her paintings while their left hemisphere is busy scrutinizing the juxtaposition of scientific symbols to create new connections.
Leonard Shlain is author of three books: Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, The Alphabet Verses the Goddess, and Sex, Time and Power. Dr. Shlain was Chairman of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, and an Assoc. Professor at UCSF. He has spoken at the Smithsonian, Harvard University, Salk Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA, and the European Union’s Ministers of Culture.
FEATURED ARTIST IN BOOKS:
Encaustic Art in the Twenty-First Century, by A. Lee and E. A. Rooney, Schiffer Publishing
featured artist on four page spread and included on cover
Speak for the Trees, by Andrea Friesen, Produced by Marquand Books, featured artist www.speakforthetrees.com
101 Artists of the Northwest, A.E. Rooney K. Matzke, Schiffer Publishing, featured artist
Green Art, A. E. Rooney and M. Goldberg, Schiffer Publishing, featured artist