Experience describes what we do. The texture of experience describes how we feel. In Johan Lowie’s work, it is emotional texture above all that spurs expression. Lowie’s decades of creative work evoke deep, unsettled feelings that come from the frisson of life experiences churning directly against interior wheels of emotion. His images present experience and observation transformed by contemplation. Where a superficial review of his work might determine it to be purely surreal, longer exposure suggests deeply emotional, honest explorations about how we remember our own feelings as we accumulate experience through life. Take Lowie’s landscapes. He often paints the environment around his home in Fredrick County, Maryland, but almost never works from photographs. Rather than composing abstractions based on what he sees, Lowie instead explores a sense of emotional memory that the landscape evokes. What emerges become explorations not only of the emotional texture prompted by location, but also the emotional context for Lowie himself, as he inevitably invests his interior life into the externalized effort of his work. Lowie explores diverse subjects in his work beyond landscapes, too. From carefully considered interior spaces to abstracted figure studies to moody street scenes, Lowie’s work returns repeatedly to the intangible, yet deeply emotive spaces that shape human feelings and memory. In a theatrical sense, drama demands that contrasting elements be in direct contact. Lowie’s paintings present inherently dramatic themes, with bold colors and often primitive geometric shapes sometimes placed in context with more literal images, like a person sitting a chair or a simple piece of furniture. More often, however, color and shape describe their own vocabulary. Figurative evocations generally take a secondary role to purely emotional expressions. Where inspiration may arrive from challenging life experiences like loss, isolation, and pursuit of purpose in life, the tangible aspects of his work speak with strong colors, defined shapes, and confident juxtapositions. Lowie’s work challenges viewers, but that challenge gives as much as it takes. Where viewers may first encounter assertive designs and compelling compositions, they soon find themselves forced to reckon with their own relationship to the images. Lowie asks viewers not simply to consume his images, but to digest them, integrate them, and ask themselves why they feel the way they do. In an era saturated with invented, inventive images, that provocative moment of introspection may be the most elusive filter.
Johan Lowie usually has a number of paintings in process at the same time. Like everyone’s life, with multiple threads extending simultaneously into time and space, Lowie likes to turn his attention to different works as his emotional connections to them shift. As to why he paints in the first place, Lowie offers that his work is part of an effort to excavate deeper understandings of what forces shape his feelings at different moments in time, or about specific subjects or experiences. After visiting family who reside in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, Johan Lowie moved to The Finger Lakes region of New York State in the Spring of 1994. A few years later he moved to Fredrick County, Maryland, where he currently lives and works. But Lowie’s life started elsewhere, speaking different languages, growing up surrounded by different history. He grew up in Ypres, Belgium. He speaks English, French, Dutch--a polyglot of romantic influences-- but his first language is Flemish. Both personally and professionally, Lowie is the inevitable result of an artistic family. His father was a sculptor, his mother a singer. Even at an early age, Lowie knew he would ultimately find his way into the arts. The emotional terrain of his work has roots in the tension between changing social mores in Cold War Western Europe and the all-too-recent 20th century conflagrations that seared and scarred the continent. With NATO headquarters located in his home country, Lowie grew up during an era when social strictures were in a state of profound transition, when political echoes of nationalism sometimes collided with growing social freedoms. Coming from an artistic family, these dichotomies directly shaped the complex emotional background for his work. As he puts it, it's the “friction between worlds” that’s most interesting. “Think of a patient inside a hospital considering life ongoing outside a hospital,” he offers by way of example. In fact, Lowie has remarked that he often feels like he’s in direct, albeit unintentional, competition with ubiquitous electronic media. “I want to slow it down,” he says. That sentiment even extends into his choice of media, usually oil paint on wood board or masonite. Oil paints take a long time to dry, requiring Lowie to take his time while the paintings take shape. The materials underneath those paints are smooth surfaces—good foundations for what often turn into multiple layers of paint as he works and re-works an image. He says he knows when a work is complete when it tells him it’s complete. That takes time. Sometimes a piece simply needs to be set aside for a while mid-effort while other works gain traction. Sometimes a work in progress needs to rest before it finds its promise and compels Lowie to finish it. Lowie earned a BFA from Kortryk Institute of Technology and an MFA from KASK, the Royal Academy of Ghent. Eight years working as a commercial artist, developing graphic designs for widely varied clients, both sharpened his technical skills while also distilling his passion and desire to pursue more personal expressions instead. His works full time now as an artists, for himself. “It’s the only thing I can imagine myself doing,” he says.