The art of Jane LowBeer gives presence to the ordinary objects in our lives – a drinking glass, an eggbeater, a salt-cellar, a glue gun, a small potted plant, a fork. Full of motion and intimacy, the objects are not glorified or prettified, but neither are they taken for granted.
Art often makes me feel an affinity for the person behind the work, before I ever have the pleasure of meeting them. Jane LowBeer is such an artist. Her grey scale monotype at the 2012 Art Gallery of Peterborough Triennial immediately spoke to me. When I walked into her home I was immersed in beauty, inside and out. Also a yoga teacher and indomitable gardener, she and her partner relocated from Toronto to this small contemporary house and studio overlooking the lovely rolling farmland north of Rice Lake, where they planted garlic, spelt and winter wheat. Her garden is no less a work of art, indiscriminately full of sculptures, flowers and food. She knows how to make things. Her love of material and textiles is evident in her home as in her work, the value of simple domestic things, where the homely and the exceptional are given equal measure.
After graduating from New York’s Bard College, her leanings towards experimental printmaking took her to the venerable print studio Atelier 17 in Paris. She realized she was not cut out for editions, yet loved the textural quality of prints. She has an impressive international exhibition and awards history, from Open Studio, The World of Threads, and the Loop Gallery in Toronto to shows in Montreal, New York and Paris.
But what intrigues me even more is her connection to the world of set design and avant-garde puppetry. As a young mother she managed to teach herself to design, build and tour with original puppet shows and continued that work for almost 20 years. The world of puppetry attracts a quirky breed of artist and there you will find some of the most radical, imaginative and political theatre there is – it’s world where a skirt can fall in love with a pair of pants, a puppet can remove its own shadow, where humans and animals can effortlessly transform themselves without judgement or suspension of belief. It explains why her work abounds with narrative, and why elements of the 3 dimensional continue to figure prominently in her present work. Not satisfied with static images, LowBeers’s crankees are delightful hand-cranked, low tech animations, complete with squeaky soundtracks, sometimes coupled with a horizon line of lemons, a skipping rope, a measuring tape …
Undoubtedly the work she has done with puppetry informs her work. Even the prints and paintings are full of motion – lines of stitching, repeats of dots, the ghost of a monotype reprinted on the paper, giving everything a gentle animated hum.
She enjoys lists, inventory, the lining up of objects, exercise books and grids. Technical problems and obstacles are good for one’s work, she tells me. Yet LowBeer’s work describes a love of imperfection, an intentional untidiness – a sewing machine with authority issues leaves lines unfinished and threads dangling. Drawers of torn up prints, bits of fabric, objects with no apparent purpose will be imbued with dignity and playfulness. Magically, that series of abstracts done in bits of discarded paper, fabric and stitching captures a Diebenkorn sense of shadow, space and colour. A little 3D figurative work has Chagall’s joie de vivre.
Art isn’t about portraying the thing, she says, but about losing the thing and finding something new in the process. It’s about how to break the stillness, go inward, and find the centre. Jane LowBeer is an artist who I have much to learn from. There is joyous contemplation and beguiling, down-to-earth storytelling underwriting everything she touches.
Watch for an upcoming exhibit of LowBeer’s work at the Art Gallery of Peterborough and a concurrent workshop in 2014.