Artist Jean Lowe has a knack for work that’s laugh-out-loud witty, from her wordplay-based papier-máché books to her more recent series of large-scale paintings that mash-up over-the-top Old World interiors and the jumbled aisles of big-box retail stores.
I’m poking pretty hard fun at our society’s self-absorption and consumerism,” Lowe says, stepping into the large metal barn that serves as her studio at the Encinitas home she shares with her husband, artist and UCSD Prof Kim MacConnel, and their fluffy cockapoo, Ceci.
Last month, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego acquired a sculpture by Jean Lowe for its permanent collection. “Jean Lowe’s work reflects the wit of California Conceptualism even as it aligns with other historical references, such as pop art and minimalism,” says MCASD Director Hugh Davies.
In April, she’ll be back at Quint Contemporary Art for a solo show, a follow-up to her crowd pleasing pop-up shop for the gallery at last year’s San Diego Art Fair, where she also exhibited her paintings. “And then I’ll take a breather,” she says with a hopeful smile.
Lowe–who is 6 feet, 3 inches tall and effortlessly lovely–slices open a box containing some of the goods she peddled at her “Discount Barn,” a concept she first came up with about a year ago.
She pulls out a crumpled ceramic cup that reads: “You’re Prefect.” Giggles ensue. “I love you even though you’re inherently flawed,” she explains, unwrapping two more, each unique. She also fishes out a small ceramic jar painted with a teary eye and the label “Tear Stain Remover.” More giggles.
“The store is trying to create desire with this really banal stuff, then critique that appetite,” Lowe says.
Moving on to a maquette detailing the layout of an upcoming NYC exhibit, the artist points out that the store is the first thing viewers will see. “The signs exhort you to buy and get you hopped up a little bit. It’s jumbled and intense, and then you have some breathing space where the paintings are, and it feels elegant even though the images are even more intense.”
Lowe only started doing these provocative paintings a few years ago, first with a four-part series of straight interiors–think 99-cent stores–done on 8-by-4 panels. “I thought of them as landscapes, even though they were built environments,” she says. “I liked the challenge.”
Her latest paintings begin with collages that juxtapose photos of lavishly decorated Rococo palaces with snapshots from Wal-Mart, Costco and Big Buy, which she then translates into jarringly beautiful paintings.
“Those take such intense focus,” she says, “I don’t even know what I’m painting until they’re blown up.”
“I love Jean’s loose brush stroke and masterful use of color,” says Quint Director Ben Strauss-Malcolm. “Her paintings depict playful images yet carry such profound underlying tones of socioeconomic status.”