David Lowe Italian landscapes

Catalogue essay for "Once Upon a Time in the West"
Jeffrey Coploff Gallery, January 1999

by Tim Griffin

It is on the interstice of East and West that David Lowe situates the paintings of his Once Upon a Time in the West series—a group of works named for the Sergio Leone film. The artist's Tuscan landscapes extend across long horizontal panels of wood, the scenery's dramatic stillness and expansive format strongly evoking, somewhat surprisingly, both Cinemascope and Chinese handscroll painting. Such a traversal of disparate media and, perhaps more importantly, the aesthetic compass is, in fact, no simple coincidence. As Lowe himself points out, Leone based his first "spaghetti western" on Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, a film which was itself strongly influenced by John Ford's Hollywood westerns. And so the Italian director's trademark, extreme style with long-duration shots of vast, arid, motionless landscapes clearly parallel (if they do not specifically invoke) the deeply contemplative and philosophical, seemingly timeless, natural terrains found in Eastern artistic traditions. This is the dramatic arena where David Lowe's paintings reside.

Lowe's paintings—often containing extended planes of earthen shades populated by odd rock outcroppings, sloping hills, or geometric architecture—similarly look East as they look West, openly considering painting's contemporary relationship with photographic media at the same time that they survey his chosen medium's own history. Lowe employs a very cinematic compositional technique—breaking up his picture surfaces into black-bordered frames, and even frames within frames, so each portion of his wood panels apparently offers a different camera angle upon a scene. A painting might present a series of evermore intense close-ups of a specific area. And such an invocation of the camera, painting's sometime rival medium, continues even from piece to piece, as Lowe presents various renderings of the same photographic image from which he paints. Individual works seem an accumulation of frames built up through the camera's eye, with the constructivistic brushstroke of a Cezanne enlarged to a more general, photographic engineering of a landscape. Of course, one may again draw a comparison to handscrolls, as the area is too wide and diverse for an audience to evaluate all at once. Rather, the eye isolates parts into distinct pockets of action.

In essence, Lowe places his paintings out in the world—engaging landscape, cinema, and the camera, but working all the time with the transformative energies and materials of life. As much as his paintings have a pervading sense of quietude and peacefulness, often they have undergone meticulous and harsh processes: whether having been sanded down to capture a palpably serene softness, or buried under the ground to visually convey the continuous passage of time. And if Lowe delivers his paintings into this world, it is only to send his audiences to another. Planted in shadowless plains and hills, the ancient structures of Lowe's Italian countryside conjure up the metaphysical environs of de Chirico or Tanguy, among Western painters. In portraying an expansive European countryside, Lowe opens up an even wider spiritual realm for contemplation.

back to Reviews