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Rick Lowe Visualizises a Transformative Movement

Written by on October 26, 2022

Pictured above: North, Rick Lowe, 2022.

Notes on the Great Migration marks Houston artist Rock Lowe’s first solo exhibition in Chicago.

Houston-based artist Rick Lowe recently returned to painting after decades of a deeply influential art practice rooted in social practice. Rather than a two-dimensional legacy relegated to canvas or panel, as displayed for Notes on the Great Migration (currently on display at Hyde Park’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society), Lowe’s notoriety in the art world comes perhaps chiefly from his founding role with Project Row Houses. Project Row Houses is a series of artistic interventions in Houston comprised of a compound of 22 formerly-abandoned vernacular shotgun houses, also known as row houses, which were transformed into studio spaces, exhibition spaces and, most of all, community. One such intervention resulted in the Young Mothers Residential Program, providing housing and services for mothers in need.

Project Row Houses, photo by Peter-Molick. Courtesy of Project Row Houses.

In 2014, Lowe explained that at the start of Project Row Houses, “We didn’t have a clear objective of what we were trying to do. We just started to secure… houses, clean them up, and clear the land.”

The ongoing project has hosted countless creatives, incubated small businesses and counteracted gentrification in Houston’s historically-Black Third Ward. Lowe shared with the Wall Street Journal this year that his initial deviation from painting to social practice work was inspired when “One day, in 1990, a kid came to my studio and said, ‘Great you’re painting about injustice, but when are you going to do something that creates a solution?’”

This exhibition’s title, Notes on the Great Migration, alludes to the transformative patterns of movement of Black citizens from the rural South to the northern American cities such as Chicago. Born in Alabama in 1961, Lowe was raised in a sharecropping family where he and his family picked cotton, peanuts and corn until 1974. He was 13.

Rick Lowe, Notes on the Great Migration 3, 2022.

But according to a statement from the gallery, “the suite of paintings that constitute these ‘notes’ also incorporate references to the artist’s ongoing Black Wall Street Journey project, conceived in the context of the exhibition Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40. (Lowe received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2014.).” Black Wall Street Journey was Rick Lowe’s first Chicago-based work, and uses public art to pay tribute to the journeys of Black ancestors while exploring the connective tissue between Black Chicago’s Great Migration and the north side of Tulsa. The Greenwood neighborhood, on Tulsa’s north side, was ground zero of a 1921 Race Massacre, which resulted in hundreds of Black Tulsans killed and thousands left refugees.

Rick Lowe, North, 2022.

Eight of the works in Great Migration are displayed on eight freestanding movable tabletops, while additional works line the walls. The paintings reference cartography and tokens of the built world. Some of the work utilizes collage, and is in knowing conversation with the work of Mark Bradford, whose early aughts work layering permanent wave end papers is often somehow evocative of cartography as well. Lowe’s work, though informed by the built world, does not center space, but the products of people (with agency) establishing themselves in spaces.

Notes on the Great Migration will be on display at Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
at The University of Chicago until Feb. 10, 2023.

Keep up with Rick Lowe on his Instagram.

Written by Ayana Contreras

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