I’m drawn into this portrait of Fiona Lowry’s friend, the artist Tim Silver, through the painting’s scale. Tim appears nearly life sized, but it’s the blurred, almost pixelated nature of the image that I find most mesmerising. It imbues the work with a dream-like quality – nothing is quite what it seems.
— Isabella Baker, UQ Art Museum Curatorial Assistant
About the artwork
Fiona Lowry is drawn to explore the human psyche and frequently depicts figures on the threshold between the world around us and the dark, impenetrable spaces of the human mind. She devotes equal attention to capturing the formal qualities of beauty and to arousing feelings of impending doom. The artist uses photographs as her source, working alongside her subject to craft a specific scene and narrative.1 She achieves the final image by combining traditional painting techniques with airbrushing to create artworks that are multifaceted and ambiguous. Lowry relies on her close personal connection with her subjects to create an atmosphere of intimacy and vulnerability. Describing these relationships, she has said:
It is important to me when I am making a work that I take the subject to a place that has memory and history attached to it because I am interested in exploring the subject’s interaction with that landscape.2
In he kept it a secret even from himself 2008, Lowry depicts fellow artist and friend Tim Silver as a naked and disassociated figure crouching in an expanse of water. The mysterious title alludes to an unspecified psychological burden that weighs on Silver’s shoulders. The title, and lack of a defined context, sparks intrigue and intensifies the sense of apprehension that the painting engenders – the soft focus with which Lowry has rendered the scene adds to this uncertainty. Her airbrush technique works in tandem with the limited palette of yellow and pink to abstract the detail of what is, essentially, a representational image. Silver’s pensive face is the only element of the composition that retains focus, which draws us to contemplate his internal state and reinforces a mood of isolation.
Fiona Lowry donated he kept it a secret even from himself to The University of Queensland through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.
About the artist
Fiona Lowry is renowned for atmospheric paintings in which she examines the conventions of portraiture and landscape painting. Her works are laden with unsettling overtones and often evoke a sense of menace. Born in Sydney in 1974, Lowry completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours at the Sydney College of the Arts, where she is currently completing a Master of Visual Arts. She has been awarded several prizes, including the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (2008), the Fleurieu Art Prize (2013), the Archibald Prize for her portrait of Penelope Seidler AM, art patron and wife of fellow architect Harry Seidler, and the Tattersall’s Club Landscape Prize (both 2014). Lowry’s work is held by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Artbank, Sydney, and the corporate collections of Macquarie Bank; UBS Wealth Management Australia Ltd; Veolia Environmental Services; and ABN AMBRO Australia.
Adapted from text by Isabella Baker, Curatorial Assistant, June 2016.
1. Natasha Bullock, Wilderness: Balnaves contemporary painting (Sydney, NSW: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2010), 74.
2. Art Gallery of New South Wales, “Archibald Prize 2014,” Fiona Lowry, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/archibald/2014/29495/.