Artist Jean Lowe Plays With Depictions Of Women
Encinitas-based artist Jean Lowe has a new site-specific work on display at Quint ONE beginning this week. The gallery, open for appointments of physically distanced, in-person visits, features one major work at a time — generally of living, contemporary artists.
"POW!" stands for "portraits of women," and the installation examines the way women were portrayed in abstract expressionism and modernism. Lowe created a replica of a midcentury museum exhibition space — a massive canvas painted as a rug and set on the floor, cloth-mâché and cardboard sculptures made to look like impressively realistic decorative plants, and then three "framed" paintings — painted directly on the gallery wall.
The three works, crafted to look three-dimensional with painted ornate frames and shadows, echo lesser known works by iconic abstract artists Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
"I wanted to pick not iconic works by, in this case, Picasso, de Kooning and Pollock, so that it's not an arts-historical look at this work; it's like a contemporary person engaging with the paintings in a fresh way," said Lowe. "What I was thinking about is the depiction of women by men, as all nostrils and teeth and boobs."
Lowe wanted these works not just to interrogate how women are portrayed, but how that is perceived and felt by women, too. "Is it misogynist?" Lowe asked. "I mean, I love the work, so I kind of got to thinking: Is it just wildly liberating to be depicted as a fierce, crazy hag, a sturdy, powerful woman?"
Common in Lowe's work is an upturning or derailment of accepted or familiar things. "What's neat to me is to be able to hold a variety of viewpoints at once and even diametrically opposed feelings," Lowe said. In her work, she likes to make room for that, and combining that feeling of loving those portraits while also critiquing them helps her, and audiences, arrive at new appreciations and new ways of thinking.
Also upturned: a viewer's actual perception when walking into the gallery. "I kind of like work that just catches you formally first, so the surprise of seeing something painted directly, and the sculptures are realistic enough that when you really look at them they start to dissolve a little bit," Lowe said.
Quint Gallery — first opened by Mark Quint nearly 40 years ago — has been a mainstay in the visual arts scene in its several locations and formats over the decades, creating spaces for established and emerging artists as well as collectors and casual viewers.
"As a gallerist, he's got an artist's way of thinking about stuff," said Lowe of Quint. While some of the pieces — the large canvas rug, the plant sculptures — are available for collectors, when this run at Quint is over, the three paintings are ephemeral and will be painted over. "He is giving me the opportunity to do a piece that from a commercial standpoint is a really difficult proposition."
Part of the installation (though nestled in the back room at Quint ONE) is also a set of bookshelves with papier-mâché books, painted with absurdist and macabre titles.
The bookshelves provide the same gradual dismantling of expectations and perception as a visitor approaches or looks closer. Populating the shelves are titles like "The Fascinating Art Of Taxidermy," next to a specimen of a human face. "Spoiler Alert!" with a funeral hearse. A paperback featuring a pensive woman gazing into a field: "If I Wasn't So Nice, I'd Tell You What A Prick You Are."
Lowe has a history of melding contemporary perspectives with fine art and the sublime. An example also on view in ONE's back room is an older piece, a massive wood panel work, "Clearance, (Baby Dolls), 2009," which pairs her rendition of an ornate, painted ceiling, crystal chandelier and high-brow decor with the interior of a dollar store in the foreground.
Lowe describes her aesthetic as "conceptual-decorative." In prior exhibitions that included Lowe's painted rugs, visitors often hesitated to set foot on them, even though the works have a protective coating. Her works toy with the preciousness of fine art while still existing in that realm — it's a combination of both challenging and embracing our relationship with art at the same time.
While creating "POW!," Lowe was relieved and thankful to be back in the studio again making work that will be on view now, after "everything getting a big flat tire" during the pandemic. While the sculptures and rug were made in the studio over time, once Lowe had access to the gallery space, she worked quickly, painting the portraits in one day.
One more obscure, intentional detail to add to the layers of the "POW!" installation: Lowe chose the soft, museum-worthy, feminine pink wall paint that served as her literal canvas for the three portraits because she likened it to "cadaver pink."
"POW!" by Jean Lowe is on view by appointment at Quint ONE through Nov. 10.