Interviews / Visuals

THE MANY LAYERS OF THE CITY:”STRATIGRAPHY” by TODD LOWERY

Todd Lowery is an american artist and academic that has established a close relationship with Athens. Travelling every year between Greece and the States, he recollects the many things he experienced in Athens to reassemble in his work. The process of reassembling happens simultaneously through the overlapping of many layers of his memory in his series of paintings Stratigraphy, where each layer is linked to some specific element of the urban landscape. This stratigraphy of memories is a reading of the complexity of the city, that beyond its homogeneity reveals many factors that changes constantly in a strong continuity of the urban environment.

SPACE, TIME, MOVEMENT

Exarcheia (1)

Todd Lowery, Exarchia

THE INTERVIEWER

At first I would like you to introduce yourself and how you came to spend one year in.

TODD LOWERY

My name is Todd Lowery. I am an American artist and Professor of Art at Drury University, Springfield Missouri. My initial connection to Greece came via Drury University. Drury has a campus in Aegina (originally based in Volos). It provides semester-long study abroad opportunities primarily, though not exclusively, for students in our Architecture program.

My first visit to Athens was in 2007. I return every year, usually for the months of our summer break and for two sabbaticals. My first sabbatical was the spring semester of 2009. I split my time between Volos and Athens. My recent sabbatical was for the 2015-2016 academic year and I split my time between Greece and working in my studio in the U.S.

THE INTERVIEWER

 Which are your artistic references and how have they influenced your view of Athens?

TODD LOWERY

If I were to select the artistic influences that come into play with this body of work, I’d say that it’s a mélange of artists. Stuart Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Marsden Hartley, and Pontormo. In the early 90s I was greatly influenced by the paintings of David Reed, Philip Taffe, and the “Circuit Paintings” and writings of Peter Halley. Contemporaneously, I feel a connection to the performance works that I have seen by Dimitris Papaioannou: Still Life and Primal Matter.  His Mesa resonates strongly with my own responses to Athens and my views of it. I find some correspondence in my work with the way Papaioannou uses and communicates space, time, and movement.

THE INTERVIEWER

 How Athens and Greece influenced you and your art?

TODD LOWERY

I was immediately and profoundly engaged by the density and urban energy of Athens, by the interspersed archaeological sites seeping the deep history of Greece into the everyday, the hand-built geometries of the vernacular architecture of the islands and rural mainland, the scattered skeletons of incomplete modern concrete construction, the vibrancy and ubiquity of street art. The unique qualities of Greek light and space(s) that permeate one’s experience had great impact upon me and this work


A STRATIGRAPHY OF HUMAN ACTIVITIES

Topostratografia

Todd Lowery, Topostraografia

THE INTERVIEWER

The title of your work is Stratigraphy. Stratigraphy is referred in various discipline as a layering and recognition of various strata overlapped in time. What is your idea of stratigraphy for Athens and generally in Greece and why have you used it as a title for your work?

TODD LOWERY

The title acknowledges the conceptual paradigm that I use to construct the paintings. It refers to the accumulation of time, history, and records of human activity ranging from built structures to street art (posters, graffiti, signage, modern buildings, archaeological sites). My recent watercolors draw upon the same idea, but address the lighter densities, the extensive terracing found in the Peloponnese (Mani), parts of the Cyclades, and the changes of density from sea to land, village to countryside.

THE INTERVIEWER

Your canvas embedded a series of what we consider architecture operations: rotations, overlapping, juxtaposition, scaling, density. It could be interesting to go through analyzing each of them. Instead can you give a general description of some of the composition methods that you used? 

TODD LOWERY

I think of the canvases as mapping my experience and awareness of place. They are a construction and accumulation from recollection of experiencing urban fabric, site, plan, section, structures, physicality, and histories. As the paintings evolve, I make decisions about each subsequent layer that sometimes adheres to earlier structures, or may respond and partially react to those, or sometimes simply ignores the earlier ‘histories’.

The paintings are created through repeated layering of handmade marks that simultaneously suggest cartography. It allows analogous transparencies, opacities, to allow visual access to …. strokes that have been completely covered are present via texture. It s a form of palimpsest. Orientation of the painting changes constantly during the process of construction, much as one can approach a neighborhood from a variety of directions.

As a neighborhood, area, or plateia relate to the city, the paintings are connected to a larger fabric that continues, changes, and extends beyond the confines of the picture plane and frame of the canvas.

THE INTERVIEWER

 Is there any hierarchy among the strata that can be recognized on the top of the composition and the ones that lies beyond?

TODD LOWERY

The upper layers often call back to earlier ones in ways that subvert and activate the present/past relationships. They often disrupt the order. Regardless, strata are co-dependent. Hierarchical structures are collapsed in favor of simultaneity. The past and the passage time is available to be perceived in the ‘now’.

THE INTERVIEWER

 Your work present a large palette of colors, both embedded in one canvas as well in the overall creation. Do colors have any connotation to Athens and the landscape you portray?

TODD LOWERY

The color palette is always based on my experience and associations of places. Colors are determined by the particulars of a site: its structure, light, temperature, and surface qualities as I recall them.

THE INTERVIEWER

 Your work has a clear geographical connotation, as titles are often toponyms. How the composition had been influenced by the various places?

 TODD LOWERY

Some compositions are constructed from their beginning with a specific place in mind. Others begin with partial or hazy recollections that eventually coalesce and align with a recognizable memory of place. When the painting ’embodies’ the qualities of how I remember my experience there, it is complete and identified/named accordingly. The paintings are sites of experience which, in turn, are reconstructions of ‘place’.


AN ATLAS OF EXPERIENCES

THE INTERVIEWER

From this point of view, your whole body of works looks like an atlas: a large cartographic portrait of Greece where images are grouped and layers are shuffled constantly. As an atlas, it reveals and establishes a critical knowledge of places. What did you discover of Athens working on the ‘Stratigraphy’ project?

TODD LOWERY

I went to graduate school in New York City the early 90s. The various neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens tend to have noticeable, and particular, characteristics of space, dominant architectural style, street plan, etc. These differentiate and create a distinct sense of place from area to area and even block to block in some instances.

Among the many things that I found intriguing about Athens was that it took me much longer to learn to identify areas or neighborhoods than in other cities I had previously visited. The similarities from one area to another were much stronger and the differences are more subtle.

THE INTERVIEWER

 Using similar techniques, you represent different places that apparently look the same, but they all have embedded a distinct character. Which are the common features among these places and their differences as you portrait them?

TODD LOWERY

As the urban fabric of Athens, and to an extent many island chora, share a great deal of structural language, so too do the paintings. The differences of painting, of place, exist via local densities, scale, accumulated built histories, architectural variation, and local color.

Additionally, Greece has a culture of public and social space that is more open and allows for deeper, more intimate experiences of place. This is quite different from the U.S. where space is often, even usually, commodified.

THE INTERVIEWER

After your coming back in the United States, what are the remains of your creative stay in Greece?

The paintings are my way of reaching back to, and reconstructing, my experience of place. It’s my way of being in Greece, even if my body is elsewhere.

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