Geoff Lowe

Geoff Lowe’s visits to Vietnam, in 1991 and 1992, are reflected in three groups of work: straightforward drawings and gouaches of Hanoi, Halong Bay, and the Mekong River; the banners and posters he made to advertise his exhibition in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; and, finally, complex paintings that hybridize the experience of Vietnam. In these, he memorializes two types of cultural milieu: those of an Edenic assembled world of friends and family; and the constructed world of nostalgia, which for Lowe exists as a series of memories of the ’60s and ’70s. Lowe’s impressive paintings, A Constructed World I (Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), 1992, and A Constructed World II (Bay Gio), 1992, are tableaux of a staged world of friends, artists and, in the latter picture, his Vietnamese hosts. Both paintings pastiche the Sergeant Pepper cover. In the first painting, instead of rock stars, Lowe’s children pose in fancy pirates’ costumes; in place of ’60s photomontage, we see a collection of self-portraits by Lowe’s associates. Other images, such as the hilly, wooded landscape and a walking, waving camera are quotations from his earlier paintings. These reflect Lowe’s desire to make cultural metaphors visible: the paradigmatic male subject is rendered as a comical camera/eye; the hyperreal is rendered by a straightforward landscape that is, however, a national park lovingly reconstructed over several decades from a 19th-century painting.

Lowe took A Constructed World I to Vietnam, along with its replica, A Constructed World II, inviting participation from local artists. The landscape of Halong Bay and the local houses were painted by Vietnamese artists. Similarly, he worked with traditional lacquer craftsmen near Hanoi, who recreated an older painting from a photograph in an exhibition catalogue. In the lacquer simulacra, How Happy are Those who Believe Seeing, 1992, pitch-black skies, shrines, and jungle replace Australian bush. The tools of representation—a hammer and camera—remind us that this is a painting, that artifice creates art, and’ that art is work. Lowe’s insistence on images of measurement is testimony, to a desire to protect his experience against the enervating effects of cultural exhaustion.

Charles Green