Jim Lowe is a British abstract painter. Born in Bath in 1943, he attended King’s College School, Wimbledon, where his talent for drawing and painting were immediately recognised. He studied at Kingston School of Art (1960-64) and continued at the Royal Academy Schools (1964-67), where his tutors included Bryan Kneale, William Scott and Edward Bawden.
Early influences included Matisse, Klee, and the formal abstraction theories of Josef Albers; he was also very interested in the work of Bridget Riley and the potential of art to create a physical effect on the viewer. Another important influence was the New Generation sculpture movement of the 1960s, inspired by Sir Anthony Caro and involving fabricated sculptures with areas of flat colour.
In 1967, his painting Nineteen was awarded the Peter Stuyvesant Prize and the Arts Council Prize, and was exhibited in Young Contemporaries at the Tate 1967 as well as in an Arts Council touring show. In 1969 the Redfern Gallery presented a solo exhibition of his work, and in 1971 he appeared alongside John Carter, Kenneth Draper and Bryan Kneale in the exhibition Seven Redfern Artists.
Throughout his career, Lowe’s work has been characterised by the use of bright colours and abstract forms. The objective is always to make something exciting; to affect the viewer by setting up unexpected combinations and tensions that can be resolved in different ways.
There are three stages involved in making Lowe’s paintings. They begin as line drawings defining a visual experience, such as that of moving through a landscape or observing people. The shapes and colours are then painted in gouache onto watercolour board or paper. Finally, those shapes are used to create a wooden frame over which canvas is stretched and the colours are added in acrylic paint. This gives the finished works a certain depth (of around 2-7cm depending on the size of the overall piece), adding to the sense of a three-dimensional structure.
Formal ideas appear as a theme in individual works: for example, the balancing of different groups of shapes either side of a horizontal piece—as in Ochre Ground (2000) or Two Fold (1995)—or the illusion of movement created around a vertical axis in Green Pivot (1989) or White Slice (1990). The size of the painting and the precise balance of colour and tone are the means by which Lowe communicates the illusory dynamics of flat colour.
Constantly driven by the desire to make things, Lowe has always worked as a joiner as well as a painter (and has taught in both disciplines at various times in his career). Becoming somewhat disillusioned by the rise of conceptual art in the 1970s, and noticing the influence of abstract sculpture on furniture design, he considered devoting all his time to cabinet-making. However, he continued to paint, evolving his style to include more complex shapes and curves.
During this experimental period in the 1970s and 1980s he created a large number of flat gouache paintings, many of which were exhibited in a solo exhibition at Bath’s Festival Gallery in 1980.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was commissioned by art director Mike Dempsey to create the cover art for three sets of books in the Fontana Modern Masters series. Alongside other sets with artwork by Oliver Bevan, the covers received renewed interest a generation later, with writer James Pardey describing them in 2010 as “daring design classics” and publishing a website and poster dedicated to the series.
Living in Wales from the late 1980s to 90s, he continued to evolve a more organic style, exemplified by paintings such as Orange Fold (1991). In 1995 he held a solo exhibition entitled Dynamic Colour at the Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan, which was enthusiastically received by the local media.
In 2000 he returned to Bath, where his paintings were included in the Bath Area Network for Artists Open View exhibitions in 2003, 2005 and 2007; in Bath’s Chapel Row Gallery’s Valued exhibition in 2006, and in Bath Artists’ Studios Open Studios 2017. In 2013 a collection of paintings was shown at a solo exhibition at Eden House, Hallatrow, Somerset. He continues to create new work, with recent paintings including Green Snap (2016) and Cream Base (2017).
Jim Lowe’s paintings have been purchased for collections in the United Kingdom and United States of America including those of Leicestershire Education Authority and Alistair McAlpine.
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“New from James Pardey… comes another online resource dedicated to the evolution of book cover design, The Art of Fontana Modern Masters. … [this] excellent new website takes the form of a binder stuffed with information on the design evolution of the Fontana Modern Masters series, which ran to 48 books in the mid-1970s to early 80s, and was edited by the critic Frank Kermode. The covers, writes Pardey, ‘featured geometric ‘paintings’ in lurid colours which made no reference to the subject within, but instead appealed directly to the reader. For they did not just catch the eye, they hijacked it, and as such they are now regarded as daring design classics’.”
Mark Sinclair, Creative Review, 13th January 2010
“In the late 1960s, John Constable, art director at Fontana Books, needed a cover concept for a series of brief biographies about the men (and all but one were men) whose ideas were shaping the twentieth century. Fontana Modern Masters, as the series was called, was launched in 1970 [with Op Art cover designs by Oliver Bevan]. In 1974 Mike Dempsey took over as art director and… a new artist, James Lowe, was commissioned to produce the cover art.”
James Pardey, Eye magazine no.74, Winter 2009
“Bold, bright and as geometrically taught as a dancer’s thigh, Jim Lowe’s paintings display an unashamed glorification of colour and an intense appreciation of shape and texture. Viewing his exhibition, appropriately named Dynamic Colour, one is struck by the artist’s immense range of scope and expression. While Lowe has chosen to display only 13 pieces, the volume, excitement and sheer vibrancy of his work give the impression of a much larger exhibition. To single out individual works is never easy, particularly when the exhibition jigsaws so perfectly together to create a whole, but White Slice has to be the jewel in Dynamic Colour’s crown, closely followed by Cadmium Fall, Two Fold and Blue Slide. Each piece positively bursts with buoyancy thanks to vibrant colours, giant punctuation-mark structures and the most perfectly composed texture which often create a magical 3D effect. For pure, unadulterated indulgence to brighten up a miserable winter’s day, treat yourself to an eyeful of Dynamic Colour.”
Tivyside Advertiser, 16th February 1995
“Jim Lowe’s exciting colour gouache forms on watercolour board at the Festival Gallery… subjects related to a dynamic colour Pink Split, Red Descent and Lemon Gouache are paintings in which he wanted to combine many different rhythms, different-sized elements and various images. Finding him ready to hang his paintings I was struck by the refreshingly unintellectual approach to his work suggesting that his natural uninhibited inspiration comes through strongly.”
Rosalind Thuillier, Arts Review, November 1980
“Poet, critic, dramatist at the various different stages – all the triangular pieces are here combining in motion. … The triangular motif is cleverly and actively captured by James Lowe in the cover painting used for this paperback. In Eliot’s boyhood in America there was an active children’s book character, drawn by Carolyn Wells, and named Triangular Tommy. James Lowe has caught and given life to the same motion and by that cover painting Eliot would, I think, have been amused.”
Phillippa Toomey reviewing the Fontana Modern Masters biography of T.S. Eliot in The Times on 17th April 1975
“This is an optimistic gathering of some of the most promising young talents on the contemporary scene… James Lowe’s kaleidoscope-shaped canvases are professionally executed in terms of their visual logic and craftsmanship. Lowe, like some others, offers a consolidation of Josef Albers’ faith in the rationality of colour.”
Eddie Wolfram reviewing Seven Redfern Artists in Arts Review on 27th March 1971
“At the Redfern Gallery, James Lowe has his first one-man show of paintings and drawings. He has had recognition in prizes, scholarships and inclusion in group shows of standing. … a forceful and individual personality emerges…”
Frederick Laws, The Times, 28th January 1969
“These really are optimistic works, profoundly jolly, something so much harder to achieve than profound melancholy. They are resolved and not resolved, and with their quantitively cut-off colour they give wings to a wall.”
Oswell Blakeston reviewing the solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in Arts Review on 18th January 1969