Artists by Artists – mentorship of Dee Lowe

Mendel Art Gallery
Saskatoon, SK
September 2008

From didactic panel…

Responding to a history of women’s work where artistic expression often lay in the practical, Dee Lowe sees historical craft as a celebration of creativity in an environment with limited opportunities for expression. Her current work concerns itself with the shift in women’s roles in contemporary rural society, and the new dynamic of the farm family.

In putting this exhibition together, Dee and I did a lot of pushing and shoving – against the concepts, the work, and its formal elements – until we found the essence of her ideas. Far from a clean process, it seems to me that the body of work itself has unfolded as sort of an argument. By allowing that argument to be played out in this exhibition, through the selection of work included here, we acknowledge the complicated nature of women’s choices as well as the competing interests and ideas in Dee’s own practice.

At the outset of our Artist by Artists project, Dee was starting to incorporate pieces of handmade lace into her paintings. Though she has classic formal concerns as a painter, Dee is also drawn to these highly decorative pieces of craft, and she has been trying to reconcile those interests formally as well as conceptually. She had been integrating objects into her paintings for some time, but most of these objects had been very representational. In the newer work I saw the potential for Dee to capture her idea without depicting it literally. Working together to bring out the essence of the contemporary woman as Dee sees her, (and the associated dichotomy of empowerment and loss), I have encouraged her to strip away the artifice so that we may be left with a singular powerful statement and a unified body of paintings that can also serve as a starting point for new directions in her work.

As their voice, their creative outlet, their art, traditional women’s craft was (and is) not simply decorative – yet as time goes by and fewer women take up these crafts, the decorative is almost all that remains within the objects. Using these objects in this body of work, then, while in the service of Dee’s concept, formally are in danger of serving as mere decoration. Some of the works are plainly beautiful, but are these the more successful pieces? Or, rather, are the successful works the ones that call their decorative functions into question, embodying the problematic core of the concept? How can we reconcile the formal and the conceptual?

Peeling each artwork down to that juxtaposition of art versus craft – as represented perfectly by the crocheted ‘canvas’ pulled tight against its stretcher, the decorative object completely covering yet leaving plainly visible the formal structure underneath – the artist has created that space where her dichotomies can coexist in balance. The individual pieces in this exhibition push against one another as well – women’s work (the rural, decorative, frivolous, utilitarian) against art (the urban, formal, serious, intellectual). This exhibition is an argument between opposing factions in the state of the contemporary woman – neither is the better or righteous side, but in the struggle, both have sustained casualties.

- Cindy Baker