Alibi V.20 No.38 • Sept 22-28, 2011 

Gallery Review

Quest for the Sublime

Forty years of Bruce Lowney

“The Overgrowth” by Bruce Lowney
“The Overgrowth” by Bruce Lowney
When Exhibit/208 co-owner Kim Arthun was studying printmaking at UNM in the early ’70s, Bruce Lowney was heavily on his radar. "He was the Eric Clapton of lithography," Arthun says. A native Californian, Lowney had served at an Army base near White Sands in the early ’60s. After getting his master’s in San Francisco, he returned to New Mexico to work as a graduate assistant to famed lithographer Garo Antreasian at the Tamarind Institute. A grant solidified his ability to work in New Mexico, where he’s been creating his own brand of poetic surrealism for roughly 40 years.

A four-decade retrospective on display at Exhibit/208 shows Lowney’s range as a master of the tri-tone lithograph.

Lowney, like so many others, was inspired by the Southwest's expansive vistas. "The joy of seeing cumulus clouds going back over the hills, going back over the horizon as far as you can see, intrigued me as a symbol for the sublime," Lowney says. The idea of endless vastness, frightening in its ability to overwhelm, is a staple in his work.

A four-decade retrospective on display at Exhibit/208 shows Lowney’s range as a master of the tri-tone lithograph. Collected Works charts his evolution as a printer and visual poet, while making space for his equally impressive large-scale oil works.

“The Allegory of Marriage” by Bruce Lowney
“The Allegory of Marriage” by Bruce Lowney
[click to enlarge]
Standouts include "The Allegory of Marriage" (1997), which depicts a woman and man balanced precariously atop a craggy rock, jutting out from the head of a waterfall. The two figures are adjoined by a knotted rope—both of them holding one end yet moving in opposite directions. The dark joke is that if either of them were to go their own way—or follow the other—they would both perish: The manic suspension and the bond of their opposing forces is their only method of survival. This sort of black humor coupled with heartbreaking human plight is a central theme in Lowney's work. It speaks to the type of rebellious, hermitic spirit that Lowney himself embodies.

If the wicked irony in his work is not yet apparent, take a look at "Bully" (2010). The portrait is of a young man, bitter anguish on his face, uppercutting himself in the chin.

Then there are the pieces that mix precise geometry with haunting, surrealistic landscapes, grounded in a sense of naturalism. In "The Overgrowth," a lithograph from 1981, an endless row of symmetric bushes lead up to a sharply constructed pyramid made of the same matter. The idea that anything so geometrically precise could be a mistake—an "overgrowth"points to Lowney's ability to wrestle with adverse ideological forces. And in the distance is one of those New Mexico skylines, replete with long, flowing clouds.

“The Border Guard” by Bruce Lowney
“The Border Guard” by Bruce Lowney
Courtesy of
The exhibit is timely in that it could be Lowney's last show in New Mexico. He is planning to move to Arizona. Living the rancher-artist's lifestyle was "a Boy Scout's dream for years," Lowney says, "but it's lost its edge." That notwithstanding, Lowney says he will continue to create art, but mostly in smaller scale watercolor and drawings. He has sold his printing press.

"I reached the end of something there," he says. "I'm going down to Phoenix to pull up a chair in the shade and watch the cactus grow." Do yourself a favor and experience the collected works of a master before he rides off into the sunset.

Collected Works

Runs through Oct. 1
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
208 Broadway SE
For info, call Kim Arthun, 450-6884, or Russell Hamilton, 977-0085.