David Lowe Italian landscapes

Creative Loafing
January 9, 1998

by Cathy Byrd

Wild West: Exhibit Revisits the Land of Spaghetti Westerns

David Lowe may live and work in New York City, but it's the Tuscany landscape that compels his painting. On view at Solomon Projects are excerpts from the series he calls Once Upon a Time in the West, the title of a 1969 "spaghetti" Western by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.

Leone was an Italian creating an American Western. American artist Lowe is doing the reverse, picturing an Italian landscape. Varying in width from 10 to 29 inches and in length from 15 to 77 inches, his long and narrow horizontal paintings read like cinema. Focusing on environs that were a stand-in for the American West, Lowe pans vast, still stretches of Italy. He uses earthy colors to form rocks, hills and occasionally the uncomplicated architecture of small towns and ruins. Each scene is framed in a wide black border. Sometimes a frame inside that frame will fragment the panorama and duplicate it from a slightly different perspective, much as two different cameras would film a scene in close-up and long shot.

Lowe sands the surfaces of his paper-on-wood paintings, which ages, weathers and mutes the view. Earlier, small-scale works hold history on their surfaces-faded landscapes, which are marred by spots and burn holes, evoking the quality of old films. In the 21by-77-inch "No. 164," his sanded-down, pencil-drawn and watercolored painting renders a terrain swept empty and dry. "No. 151," a 12-by-21-inch piece, spans another gray-brown flatness interrupted by a few rocks and stone structures.

A contrast to the parched finish of the other works in the series, there are two paintings in oil on wood. Though not resonant with the old West theme, these are equally nostalgic vistas. The lustrous "No. 170" depicts bluish hills and a washed-out sky as the faraway backdrop for a cluster of stylized honey-hued stone buildings and a few pointed dark trees. In "No. 171," hills roll into water that is postcard-blue.

The Western film genre implies wide space, wilderness and freedom. Isolating these open views has the effect of documenting not only a place but a time gone by. Lowe crops each numbered scene from a larger photographic image, acknowledging on a metaphoric level that the modern urban observer can no longer take in more than a fragment of nature. The dark borders of the paintings close in on the landscape, as if to emphasize its spare significance and to document its loss.The artist's unpeopled Tuscany is somewhat of an East-meets-West experience. In its austere and quiet beauty, Once Upon a Time has both the metaphysical power of certain de Chirico paintings and the meditative physical presence of painted Chinese scrolls. Lowe reclaims for a moment the idealized, humanistic world that the mind wants to reclaim for the soul.

Once Upon a Time in the West runs through Jan. 16 at Solomon Projects,
1037 Monroe Drive.

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