Miles Lowry has been exhibiting paintings and sculptures in solo and group exhibitions for over 35 years. A prolific multidisciplinary artist, he is also known as a writer, photographer, illustrator and theatrical designer. As the artistic co-director for Suddenly Dance Theatre, Lowry also explores dance and media through writing, directing and designing for live performance, television, video and multi-media collaboration.
Known for his life-size sculptures that explore the body as an expressive canvas, his sculptural installation Dissolve/Reveal, portraying a group of disappearing figures, was chosen Peoples Choice at Artropolis 2002 in Vancouver BC and was subsequently featured on CBC’s Artspots. Miles recently presented, ‘Marks of Devotion,’ an exploration of painting and devotional mark-making with master calligrapher Georgia Angelopoulos and ‘Saints of Circumstance,’ a collection of cryptic portraits in paper, wood, wax and pigment. His sculptural works can be seen at The Gallery at Matticks Farm in Victoria and at the Grantfield Fine Art Gallery in Anghiari, Italy.
Briefly describe your childhood and when you started to explore art. I grew up in Victoria B.C near a stretch of beach approaching the long curving breakwater at Ogden Point. On one side was the Yacht Pond and the other was an expanse of fields and parkland. It was the 1960’s and I was immersed in nature and free to roam like most children I knew. In my early teens, I was introduced to fine art by Waine Ryzak who encouraged me to explore mediums and later Michael Hemming who encouraged critique and technique. These two teachers are still greatly valued friends today.
My life really took off when I graduated and spent my scholarship on a journey down the pacific coast. In San Francisco, I saw my first original works of the great painters I had previously loved in books. I was the guy who was studying the marks up close and experiencing the huge expressionist paintings as room size murals. When I came back to Victoria, I knew I would someday have an exhibition and set to creating my own work.
You’ve been exhibiting your paintings and sculptures for over three decades now. Do you remember your very first sale? The first piece I sold was a line drawing of a dancer, five or six lines only. My first solo show was in 1982 and I revealed the results of my years of exploration: paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints. I sold several works and continued working on new exhibitions to establish myself and build a career. I was lucky — the timing was right and I had the attention of a small but dedicated audience.
Your paintings reflect a deep connection to nature. It’s as though you are connecting to the essence of nature’s mystery. Can you speak to the surreal nature of your work? I discover in nature everything I loved as a child, but with the added knowledge of an adult who knows how time-sensitive everything is. I am attracted to ways that paint can both materialize and disintegrate images and influence our perception of things. This approach came first in New Mexico and then subsequently in Ireland and now anywhere I travel, I can produce paintings as a response to my experience. The dreaminess comes from letting details slip away and others come to the surface. Lately, I am making paintings that have no particular subject other than the presence of a place or person.
I like this excerpt from a recent revue by Yvonne Owens in La Vie Des Arts, Montreal 2016: “Luminescence fluctuates, ebbs and flows, in Lowry’s works, like a pulse. His painting would seem to suggest that somewhere at the substratum of all matter is simply light, pure light. Perhaps involved in an intimate dance with shape, it provides the pulse of the seen world with infinite regressions of fractal arabesques — signs and inscriptions only to be read by means of a complete surrender of formal expectations.”
Many of your subjects are drawn from your travels and experiences with the natural world. Can you tell us about the significance of Ireland to you? Ireland is a country that has inspired me in all my various mediums. It holds symbolic meaning as well as being a practical resource and place to work on new ideas. One spring, I was in the countryside in County Monaghan, a less known border county in Ireland, made up of farmland, forests and lakes. The swallows migrate there every year from the Mediterranean and I found myself drawn to the life of the swallows and the impressive way they maneuver the skyways. Swallows have a special place in the hearts of many cultures and times. My swallows are graceful in their journeys despite the great risks and distances. Some are solo, some in pairs and some are like migrating families looking for food and warmth. They are like little superheroes. When I paint them I often also paint their flight lines zooming around them like memories of where they have been and projections of where they are going.
Tell us about your sculptural series, ‘Crucial Fragments,’ currently exhibiting at The Gallery at Matticks Farm. The Crucial Fragments series addresses the body transforming through time and erosion. I studied the effect of deep water on bronze and copper and the way rust transformed steel. I wanted to work with the very vulnerable material of pure cotton fibre which I cast and paint to express these ideas as figurative sculpture. I showed them first as a group called Dissolve/Reveal and the idea bloomed into a larger series. Attitudes toward human beauty and vulnerability continue to inspire these works. In my travels, I always found the most interesting academic sculptures were the ones that were damaged or in juxtapositional settings. The way they were changed or had survived was what gave them symbolic rather than classical impact.
Why is The Gallery at Matticks Farm special to you? I grew up in Victoria and my parents often took me to Matticks Farm. It was a big occasion for the family because there was live animals, trampolines, trains and ice-cream all in one place. Ironically, my parents moved to the area when they retired. When I discovered there was a little gem of an art gallery in the now modern version of Matticks, I began to show my small sculptures and gradually became a regular exhibitor. Over time, I’ve continued to show there and feel a connection to the gallery all the way into childhood.
Your portraits are captivating and tell a different story than your sculptures. Are these portraits of friends and family? I have a series of larger painted portraits underway of people I’ve seen in passing or some I’ve never really met. I call them Heroes and Orphans, they are the bystanders and inhabitants of the places I am drawn to go, whose stories I can imagine through their faces. I am contemplating the effect of these chance encounters especially while traveling in new countries and regions.
What are you currently working on and what does the future hold for you? Most recently I’ve been completing a movie for children about bullying and conflict resources commissioned by the WITS program and the University of Victoria. It’s a short called ‘Wits In Motion.’ The work is a nonverbal dance video piece that explores ways for young people to learn how to balance aggression and intimidation. My role is co-director (with David Ferguson), music and sound design. We are just now preparing the teaching guide. We are hoping to see it used in schools everywhere. Whenever I talk about it people come forward with their own stories.
I recently completed a new collection of works with Georgia Angelopolous, a friend and masterful calligrapher. We were responding to the loss of the many beloved people who had passed away in 2016 and worked together on a series called ‘A Broken Hallelujah,’ a fragment from the Leonard Cohen song. We worked together on the same paper, adding to each others marks until we found a point of knowing when we’ve hit a note. They can be viewed online at loveandliberty.ca.