New York

Robin Lowe

AC Project Room

Robin Lowe takes a diarist’s approach to portraiture, putting a psychological spin on casual encounters with friends and family members. Working from snapshots, he shows ordinary subjects in ordinary contexts but from unexpected angles that reveal the extremities of their personalities.

Painting on wood, Lowe constructs a hyperreal universe from subtle distortions and adept manipulations of color. Garden State/Gary (all works 1994) is particularly goofy. The focal point is not the happy young fellow proudly grinning from a lakeside lawn chair, but the grandly upswept genitals of the dog he holds to his chest. The landscape’s paint-by-numbers aspect is offset by a slightly out of scale, banana-yellow cabana and lake water of an unreal aqua. Merida/Layla, a vacation shot picturing the artist’s sunburned niece sitting at a patio table by a barely visible sea, is even more perverse. Wearing an outfit that is fleshier, more tactile than her skin, the girl clearly wishes to imbibe a cool drink but is anxious about the infant’s teether clamped in her mouth like a plug. This disquieting figure recalls those Mexican postcards showing women with padlocked or sewn-together lips and emblazoned with the word “Loudmouth.”

Side Skelly/Betty shows a grandmotherly type whose cheerful but looming countenance suggests a kindness that kills. The carefully molded wrinkles and droopy folds of her face are echoed in the wales of her corduroy jacket and contrast with the hard lines of the wood-beamed ceiling slicing across the picture plane above her hand. She nearly jumps out of the frame. This woman’s scary.

The perversity of Lowe’s vision does not imply, however, that he renders his subjects without affection. Clearly, their eccentricities are what make them lovable in the first place, but the key to Lowe’s work lies in its solipsistic nature. We see less what these people might hope to present to the world than what it is about them that amuses, bedevils, or fascinates the artist, and what they themselves might wish to hide. Characters in an autobiography, Lowe’s subjects look out as if into a mirror; even if they know someone’s watching, they give the impression of seeing only themselves.

Linda Yablonsky