Curatorial Discussion #1 Psychology and Color in Constance Lowe’s Work

Manifold Projection 1

Manifold Projection 1, 2012
archival inkjet print on watercolor paper #1 of 3
24 x 19 inches

This following post is first in a series of blog posts about the Hawn Gallery’s exhibition Chromarray, with works by Constance Lowe. Throughout the exhibition, Emily Rueggeberg, the Hawn Gallery Curatorial Fellow, will post about the artwork and themes present in the exhibition. This post focuses on the significance of abstraction and psychology in Lowe’s series, Fabcom/Chromarray and Garden City (Air to Ground).

Psychology has been used as a mode for not only understanding how humans perceive the world and emotionally react, but also their emotional responses to art. As early as 19060, prominent art historian E.H. Gombrich incorporated psychology into his research as a tool for measuring people’s reactions to art; why we are drawn to certain colors and themes and repelled by others. In his book Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (1960) Gombrich explores the visual exchanges that occur between viewer and object and what factors shape one’s understanding of what’s before them.[1]

The Western art canon has traditionally valued representational art over more abstract forms. Viewers are able to immediately associate an art object with something they’ve encountered in their lives. Art has gone through many changes and periods since Gombrich’s Art and Illusion. With the advent of globalization and an increasingly interconnected world, came an increased understanding and view of art. With a deluge of information being sent people’s way each day, their associative skills and ways of navigating the world were no longer confined to their physical surroundings. Our perceptions are not only formed internally but also externally through cultural factors. An important question to ask oneself when thinking about changes in art is whether a shift away from pictorial art forms speaks to a cultural shift wherein people’s tastes change or the change in tastes is informed by the art itself.





Left: Cover of E.H. Gombrich’s  Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of pictorial Representation

Right: Alexander Cozens, ‘Blot’ drawing ca. 1750-85

Brush and black ink

Image courtesy V&A Museum, UK


Gombrich documents the history of artists using people’s proclivity for projecting their experiences onto their surroundings to their advantage. He explores how many do this through the use of “accidental forms” or schemata.[1] Gombrich uses 18th century British landscape painter Alexander Cozen to illustrate his point, discussing how Cozens advocated for a method of his own design wherein he created unplanned ink blots, using them as the inspiration for his landscape paintings. In his book A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape (1785), Cozens explains the difference between drawing and creating ink blots. He states, “To sketch…is to transfer ideas from the mind to the paper…to blot is to make varied spots… producing accidental forms…from which ideas are presented to the mind…To sketch is to delineate ideas; blotting suggests them.”[2]

Gombrich suggests that Cozens use of ink blots is linked to Rorschach’s use of ink blots in his psychological studies, showing a progression of abstraction both in the fields of art and science. Like Cozens and Rorschach, Lowe is interested in experimenting with abstraction in order to better understand naturally occurring patterns and shapes as well as challenge viewer’s readings of artwork.

Art – whether it be representational or abstract – challenges our rational brain, especially as adults. It forces us to look past what we know and the experiences we have stored in our mental lexicon and confront what is before us. In performance artist Marina Abramovic’s “Statement” (1992) taken from a conversation with author Doris Von Drathen, Abramovic calls for the integration of the non-rational which is suppressed in adulthood, into the ways in which we view art. She likens artists to shamans in their roles as spiritual guides who teach the public about themselves and open their inner eye attached to emotions. Abramovic wants artists and their work to act as catalysts for creating new ways of perceiving. She states:

Breaks with conventional ‘understanding’ are important to me; I want to produce a ‘mental jump’, want to lead people to a point where rational thinking fails, where the brain has to give up. The confusion which then arises in the brain is also an interval. Another world can open up.[3]

While Lowe’s work typically begins with identifiable objects, she alters their appearance to challenge the reality of her artwork’s subjects. Through these subtle transformations, Lowe investigates the internal, psychological factors at play in her Fabcom/Chromarray series. As discussed in the previous exhibition blog post, the series is comprised of large-scale felt pieces and colored pencil drawings on drafting film. The artworks are indeterminate, amorphous shapes that challenge the viewer’s subconscious urge to connect the works to some aspect of their lives. Lowe is interested in keeping the artworks’ meanings ambiguous, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what the artwork symbolizes to them. Lowe provides the colors and forms, while the audience unconsciously engages with the works on a deeper psychological level.

FabCom 14-2

Fabcom 14-2 (2004)

Colored pencil on drafting film

45×30 in

One piece which reflects such alterations is Fabcom 14-2 (2004) from Lowe’s Fabcom/Chromarray series. Like the felt pieces, Fabcom 14-2 is equally laborious, colorful, and detailed. It appears to be a straightforward piece, one digitally created, until the viewer approaches and sees it for what it really is: a drawing. Lowe drew directly onto clear drafting film, placing one side onto a sheet of paper. The facedown image smudged, removing any sign that the piece was created by human hands. There is a doubling effect that occurs not only in the creation of the piece, but also its meaning. The boundary between natural and human-made is also blurred, revealing the difficulty in making distinctions between the two in an increasingly digitized world. Lowe explains:

I am attracted to the notion that the ink blot hangs suspended between abstraction and a multitude of representations. This state of “in-betweenness” is mirrored in the physical translucency of the medium, hovering between opacity and transparency, making visible an imaginative state in which the images evade identity or category. [4]

Lowe continues, saying:

Translucency is simultaneously a seeing through and seeing into; it both reveals and veils, and is illuminating and murky. In the gap between abstraction and representation, drawing and object, dreaming and waking, of and out of this world, is room for something else entirely to occur and take on its own life.[5]

Lowe’s most recent series, Garden City (Air to Ground) also utilizes natural motifs which are abstracted into colorful, geometric shapes. The pieces take their inspiration from circular and gridded NASA satellite photos of Midwestern fields. The landscapes contain personal connotations to Lowe as they represent land once owned by her family. Lowe uses a range of materials in this series that blend the natural and artificial such as dyed calfskin, wool felt, translucent drafting film, and photographic reproductions of nature. When the sheep’s wool and calfskin are dyed, their natural origins are obscured, further disassociating the materials from the animals they originated from. This is particularly evident in Sarah’s Generous Wheel 2 (2017). The piece’s soft curved edges and circular arrangement brings to mind a satellite suspended in space, capturing the earth’s atmospheric clouds, landmasses, and bodies of water. Sarah’s Generous Wheel is an enlarged yet abstracted image. The colorful fractals hide the original image while the clouds create a feeling of suspension. The only identifiable natural motifs in the piece are the clouds. However, they are displaced from any organic origin as they are digital prints; one of the only unnatural materials in the piece.

Sarah's Generous Wheel 2

Sarah’s Generous Wheel 22017
Acrylic, wool felt, leather, archival inkjet prints on Kozo paper on drafting film
21.5 x 18 inches

Lowe’s artwork may provide some visual cues to the viewer, but intentionally obscures any potential indicators through their form and coloration, encouraging the viewer to remove any preconceived notions of what is in front of them. It is a unique way to examine art: one that can be applied regardless of the artwork’s subject matter or medium. While all artwork has layers – both physical and theoretical – Lowe’s pieces strip them away and then obscure them, representing the duality of our viewing experience.

Chromarray will be on view through May 27, 2018. The gallery is open daily, M-TH 8AM-9PM, F 8AM-6PM, Sat 12PM-5PM, Sun 2PM-9PM and free to the public. For more information, please call 214-768-3813 or visit Follow us on Instagram @hawngallery

[1] Gombrich, Art and Illusion, p. 183

[2] Ibid,  p. 183

[3] Gombrich, E. (2000). Art and illusion : A study in the psychology of pictorial representation (Millennium ed., with a new preface by the author.. ed., The A. W. Mellon lectures in the fine arts ; 1956). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[4] Drathen, D. (2004). Vortex of Silence : Proposition for an Art Criticism Beyond Aesthetic Categories.  Milano: Charta.

[5] Lowe, Constance. (2003, Fall). In and Out of Bounds. ArtLiesIssue 40.

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