Chicago-based artist Tim Lowly is making a gallery-sized family photo album out of the main gallery this fall, except that these images aren't photos at all – they're paintings. With striking sincerity, but without overt sentimentality, he puts his family before us, painted in painstaking photorealism.
His most-depicted subject is his daughter Temma who is severely mentally and physically disabled. "Part of my fairly political agenda is to say that disabled children are a part of life," Tim told Fred Camper for a story about his family in the Chicago Reader. "These are not freaks. What I'm saying is that we should advocate for eyes of compassion that see human beings as human beings, rather than separating them into the beautiful, the ugly, the normal, the freak." He understands though that these paintings can be challenging to viewers who don't spend a lot of time with disabled people.
"One of the things that's most difficult for people in looking at my paintings of Temma is that she's so outside their comprehension–it's almost like looking at a martian. But the fact that I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours making images of someone that most people don't even want to look at must say something about the beauty I see there." There's no doubt that he sees beauty in Temma and the other family members. The paintings are convincing in that regard.
The paintings are also convincing in the trompe l'ouille (trick the eye) sense. Tim works directly from snapshots. The painting Shift maintains the motion blur created from a photograph taken in low light without flash. We see his wife Sherrie with Temma on the living room couch on what we imagine to be a regular day. The size of this painting is 40×60 inches, so with the high level of detail involved, we can only imagine how much time went in to making this. The labored attention to every day moments and mundane detail is a recurring theme in Lowly's work.
Woman by Water depicts the artist's mother sitting in a suburban no-man's land. The overwhelming size of the painting (4×16 feet) elevates this out of the way locale to an epic scale. Every dirt clod, pebble, and reflection is given equal attention. This careful and equally distributed attention to details often ignored is fitting considerating that the driving ambition of his work is similarly to see often ignored human beings with careful and equally distributed attention.
After growing up in Korea as the son of Christian missionaries, Tim studied painting at Calvin College where abstract expressionism was the norm at the time. During college in the late 1970's he lived in an intentional faith community in Grand Rapids. He met his wife Sherrie there when she came to visit the group.
They were married in 1981 and chose to adopt a new last name. They chose Lowly because it reflected the meanings of both their family names and their value of humility. It wasn't until after college and a return trip to Korea that he began painting in realism. He was painting images of under-privaledged peoples so when Sherrie and he had Temma, painting disabled people, including his daughter, was a natural next step.
Tim now splits his time between being with his family, making and exhibiting paintings, teaching at North Park University in Chicago where he's also the Gallery Director, and writing, recording and performing music.