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Friday, Apr 20, 2012 - Canvassed | Art & culture

Jean Lowe makes us smile and question ourselves at the same time

The famed painter and sculptor's 'Hey Sexy!' show opens at Quint Contemporary Art April 21

By Kinsee Morlan
jeanlowe Jean Lowe and her pup in her Encinitas home.
- Photos by Kinsee Morlan
It was hard to miss Quint Contemporary Art's booth at last year's San Diego Art Contemporary Art Fair. Artist and sculptor Jean Lowe completely transformed the small space, turning it into Discount Barn, a bustling miniature marketplace replete with stacked cases of beer, coffee mugs and other priced-to-move, brow-raising and smile-inducing products handmade by the artist.

The gallery's staffers and even owner Mark Quint himself manned the booth, playing the part of apron-clad cashiers working the register as people wandered through the small aisles literally filling their shopping baskets with goods.

Last week, I stopped by Jean Lowe's studio, a big breezy barn-like building in Encinitas. She was finishing up new pieces for Hey Sexy!, her solo show at Quint Contemporary Art (7547 Girard Ave., La Jolla) opening from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21, and on view through May 26. The show will be another iteration of the marketplace, so Lowe was busy putting the final touches on a boombox made of cardboard. Every good art exhibition needs a soundtrack, she explained.

"It's functional and funky," she said, turning the boombox to show me where the iPod fit inside.

Alongside the smaller objects she's making for the show, there are several larger freestanding painted-cardboard sculptures of things like a box containing an Ab Glider, more cases of beer and stacks of boxes of tissues.

"Perfect for cleaning up the endless fountain of tears" she giggled.

Lowe will also be showing several large-scale and smaller paintings from a series depicting contemporary consumer foregrounds set against elaborate baroque backgrounds. Some of the freestanding sculptures will look like they stepped right out of the paintings, she said, so the whole show will be one cohesive conversation on the topic of consumerism.

"I'm just playing with the idea that you can buy something that's going to make you feel better or transform your life," she said. "Like, for 97 bucks, I can be awesome."

One of Lowe's sculpture makes references to a highbrow art-world joke, but next to it stands a piece that's more indicative of Lowe's sense of humor—it's a stack of diaper boxes right next to a pile of bags of Hershey's Kisses. It doesn't take long for a viewers mind to make the connections.

"This one gets a little stupid," she said, smiling slyly like a kid who'd just been caught saying a dirty word. "But if I can make something that embarrasses myself I'm on the right track in a way. I mean, that's the edge of where I go with a one-liner like that."

I ask Lowe if the people who bought her goods at the art fair felt contradictory in a way. They were directly participating in the act of consumerism, which the show is making fun of and calling out as an empty venture.

Oh no, Lowe assured me, because the buyers are in on the joke. They get the
lighthearted nature of the show and they enjoy it. Plus, she added, "it's not a complete put-down of the power of things to store memories or carry history or actually improve your life, but just kind of a back and forth thinking about it."

"Low Prices (Bud Light)" by Jean Lowe
Photo courtesy Quint Contemporary Art
"Girl Boy" by Jeane Lowe
Photo courtesy Quint Contemporary Art