member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Old and the New

Ian Lowry is an artist in Elizabeth City, North Carolina with a particular fetish for the clothing, architectural detail, and language of long-past times. He delights in creating his own countries, set in those times, and filling them with a fascinating cast of characters and dark intrigues. For example, the land of Endor, whose rule is decided by the ownership of a certain ornate ocular device:

Baroness Cassilda Devereux Vontalee, Peering Through Her Wondrous Ocular Device, Marveling At The Many Splendors It So Freely Reveals
Cassilda is then shown the door by the next holder of the device, now Emperor of Endor..

Vi Veri Universum Vivus Vici!

...Such a device always seems to be taken from its owner in an unfriendly, rather grim manner... In fact, over a century after the Emperor in the above image (a self-portrait, it must be noted) is found, faceless and dead, an oddly-masked and secretive man begins to weald a dark and mysterious power over the new courts of Endor.

Endor’s Masked Guest

“A mysterious religious leader (a modern Rasputin, surely) has slithered his way into the royal court, and seems (dispite the opinions of the present queen, who seems to worship his every word) bent endlessly towards wicked things.

The Court guest is extremly odd, to say the least. Aside from the hideous mask- which, as far as anyone knows, has never left his face, there are a multitude of other eccentricities noticed by fellow courtiers. He wears only the tattered fashions of a long-dead age, has wild, visibly dirty hair, smells effluvious, rarely speaks, keeps all skin safely covered, and never (at least in public) eats. One of the queen's neices (seen here hurriedly passing the curious man) even goes so far as to claim he doesn't so much as breathe.” 

Grim Masquerade

“The vile masked stranger has convinced his puppet (the Queen) to hold a grand masquerade within the palace. He plans to take Endor tonight, by ripping the Ocular Device (which he in his villainy has so innocently requested she wear) off the unknowing queen's mask and using it to destroy her and her nobles, who have all been so deviously herded within the palace walls under the guise of celebration! Ah, now we see the Queen ascending the courtyard stair to the ballroom veranda. Poor creature, with such blind trust for this wicked demon! The wretched smile upon the monster's mask is at last accurate, for he knows his evil triumph is only moments away.

"But that's not the Queen," one of the courtiers bluntly remarks. "No; she's still in her dressing room. I saw her there myself only moments ago!" There is a stirring in the crowd facing the staircase. The masked wretch suddenly recoils his gloved claw from the woman. "No!" his gutteral voice cracks, "impossible- it cannot be! Cassilda!"”

Endor’s Wicked Emperor Revealed...

The Emperor is unmasked by Cassilda, but he pushes back the crowd by capturing a hostage...

Another interest of Ian’s is the cataloguing and restoration of historic properties. He often travels around with a camera, photographing old residences and other places of interest, both for inspiration and simply out of love and concern for area history. He has thus found intriguing bits of architectural detail for his work and even experienced a run-in with a ghost...In fact, he states on his Flickr page that it had been his intention to study architecture, with the end goal of a profession in historic preservation. The eventual discovery of his intense dislike of maths, however, and his simultaneous increase in interest in peopling the elaborate structures he was already so fond of drawing, led to a change of focus which loosed a unique talent...

A Time Warp on Pearl Street

Detail of A Time Warp on Pearl Street

Ian describes the drawing thus:
“my original inspiration was a house in the main slum of my town, on Pearl Street (where I got the title street from, of course). It was (still is, actually) a very sad creature, having been altered horridly on the main floors, while retaining its original details on the attic story (those details being of a victorian nature, it should be noted). It was as if it had been skinned alive and left to rot, while its ever-living face was forced to constantly see the gloom around it. It is just one of many such pitiful buildings on the northern end on Elizabeth City- an area once so wonderful, so lovely. This picture, than, is to be a great keen unto them, as well as a call to action from the more caring denizens of the city.

Like most of my drawings, the piece, along with its meaning, has evolved quite greatly while being worked on. My original idea was to show the glory of the past looming grimly over the squalor of the street's modern condition. The people below were to be sad, unpleasant, and vaguely malicious in nature. Perhaps I just didn't want it to be that depressing, though. The final product, then, is much more hopeful:
A young couple (the new owners, naturally) have decided to restore the massive, long neglected and abused mansion. Little do they know, however, that the crowned and finialed upper story of their new home, though boarded up and not entered for decades, houses others- the original residents of the home! Though long dead, they are happily unaware of the truth (or, knowing it, don't really care for it), and live in a vast metaphysical realm in which their mansion is still pristine, Pearl Street is still alive with the beauty of prosperity and comfort, and Elizabeth City still teams with new life and industry!”

Other times, the meeting between past and present isn’t so pleasantly managed:

“Oh, Goodness! Such an Odd Shudder!”

He also delves into old legend and lore, often digging up and illustrating the stories of interesting and powerful women from history. Don’t skip over the title of this next one:

"The Goode Mr. Laurie's Fine Illustratiue Accounte of the Nightly Ransacking of Ye Honour'd Gouernor's Manor-house in Charles Towne by the Euile Pyrate Anne Bonny and Her Dangerous Accoumplice, the Fearfull Mary Read."

“Vile Lilith, Haunter of the Dark”

Again, he shares the thoughts going into his work:
Lilith was, in ancient and medieval times, believed to be the first wife of Adam, before Eve was ever thought of. But she would not agree to be subordinate to Adam, so she left (or was kicked out) of the Garden. She then became a demon, forever haunting mankind. She was (is, if you believe in her, as some people apparently do) forever jealous of humans, a race she was so woefully removed from, and seeks always to destroy the offspring of the man who wanted to control her (Adam). Usually, she did (does?) this by killing young children (in their sleep, typically). In olden times, whenever an infant died, it was blamed on vile Lilith. Even to this day, some people hang talismans around the necks of infants to protect them from Lilith. It has even been supposed that the term "lullaby" actually has roots in the name Lilith, and was originally a musical chant given to children before sleep to ward her off.

The earliest depictions of Lilith (in ancient Mesopotamia) show her as part owl (links to her night stalkings, of course). Medieval artists showed her as a beautiful woman on top, but with a snake's body below (the theme of temptation, as she was often connected in thought with the snake-devil in Genesis). She has also been seen as a Succubus (a female demon that sleeps with unknowing men- the female version of an incubus). In fact, it was believed by some that Lilith was the mother of all demons (these demons being the half-spawn of humans that unknowingly slept with her).

The long dress (far taller than is reasonable) can be seen in two ways- on one hand, it could be hiding the snake body so clearly shown in Renaissance versions of Lilith. One the other hand, it could show a sort of spectral trail- a ghostly echo of the flying night-demon. The claws (perhaps my favorite part) are to show her true wickedness. Like the snake tail, they show her mutation away from humankind. She is no longer of man, but is now a monster, forever cast from the light of God- the claws, then, show show a sort of devolution (plus they just look cool).

Lilith has been seen as a haunter of ruins, so I used a noisome cemetery as her den.

Nowadays, many people actually feel sorry for Lilith (after all, the only reason she got kicked out of the garden was because she didn't want Adam ruling over her). I can't help but feel a little sorry for her, as well. Poor thing- lost forever in damnation. That's probably why I kept her beautiful, and why I didn't give her any wicked facial expression. Rather, she watches the glorious moon, a heavenly body as cold and twisted as her own.

Oh, and the second part of the title ("Haunter of the Dark") is a reference to H.P.Lovecraft's 1935 short story "The Haunter of the Dark." 

Most recently, Ian has moved into the world of color, to great effect.

“Checkmate, or the Queen’s Revenge”

Again, the Hitchcock-like affinity for sneaking a self-portrait in arises: the piano-player here is the artist himself. This drawing is another meeting between present and past, as the underhanded machinations of characters from Ian’s own city of Endor play out on a stage in the Lowry-Chesson Building, a piece of Elizabeth City’s history built by his great uncle. The title given to the illustration was the title of a play actually shown there in 1898, which he found reference to in some old papers. The building has recently been refurbished and once again plays host to the arts, as the center for the local arts guild.

And, of course, concern for the well-being of old structures and the stories and lives behind them, along with a creative temperament naturally leads to distaste for wanton destruction, such as that unleashed by the war machine...

“The Great and Terrible Airstrike” (please click the link!)



There will be a gallery showing of Ian Lowry’s works opening July 2nd in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. But if you can't make it there, I recommend a visit to his Flickr page, where you can ogle the incredible detail of his drawings at a much better size.


  1. Superb, Zoe, absolutely superb! I believe it was in The Washington Post that I first read about Mr. Lowery, a lovely write-up but not nearly as good as yours. Since Elizabeth City isn't that far from D.C. I have hopes to see his work this August. I find it interesting that the snake is once again paired with a woman. Didn't you have a previous post about Eve and how the snake may have been a salamander and how the salamander, a symbol of good, carried good fortune across the heavens?

  2. Wonderful post dear Zoe. I love Ian's work , especially "A Time Warp on Pearl Street", I could look at it for hours.
    I wish I could go to the exibit but thanks to you I get to enjoy his drawings in the comfortable setting of your wonderous blog.
    Thank you Zoe!
    Congratulations Ian.

  3. Fantastic post, zoe!

    Thank you for sharing Ian Lowry's artworks with us. I didn't know about him. I found the thought going to his “Vile Lilith, Haunter of the Dark” quite interesting. I found that the concept of the demons in your explanations is quite different from that of traditional Japanese ones. "A Time Warp on Pearl Street" is fascinating!!

  4. How did I miss so much of your blog? This of course is wonderful! I'll be back to read more!!

  5. Say, that's me you're talking about! Thanks so much, Zoe ;)

  6. Sadly, Mister Lowry has decided he's an anti-Semite and is now promoting the idea of genocide and other alt-right causes. Hopefully he'll find his way again and go bck to making incredible art like this.