Daughter is "Greatest Inspiration" for Artist and Professor Tim Lowly

Assistant Professor of Art Tim Lowly

CHICAGO, IL (May 7, 2007) – The art of Tim Lowly repels and invites, confronts and comforts, cries out and whispers, breaks the heart and hints at redemption. The viewer cannot walk away and simply think, "That's interesting," or "Okay, but what does it mean?"

Lowly is an assistant professor of art at North Park University, gallery director and artist-in-residence. His work has received praise nationally and the magazine Drawing included a lengthy feature on him last year. A reviewer wrote that his works "present the ordinary physical world as mysteriously extraordinary."

Lowly's primary subject is his 21-year-old daughter, Temma, who went into cardiac arrest the day after she was born. The interruption of blood flow to her brain caused permanent mental and physical disabilities, leaving her unable to see and with little ability to move or speak.

"She is my greatest inspiration," he says.

The first work following her birth, "Icon of Absence," was not of her, however, but of a bassinette that remained empty when Temma could not immediately come home from the hospital. Months would pass before Lowly sketched his daughter for the first time and a year before his first painting.

Many of his works since have been done at North Park. In "Cradled," six University students look up at the artist while a teenage Temma lies nestled across their outstretched arms. "Temma on Earth," which is eight by 12 feet, shows her lying on the ground. Commenting on the size of the piece to a reporter, Lowly said, "There's something very intriguing about what happens when you take a person who in the view of much of our culture is a non-person and depict her in a fashion traditionally reserved for the gods."

Prior to Temma's birth, Lowly's art advanced some of the same themes, but were more abstract. "She had a very profound effect on my art," he says. By focusing on her, he actually is better able to deal with universal themes. He notes, "Jesus came not as an idea of who God was or some abstract everyman. He came at a very specific place."

Lowly says his art is theological and political. His work featuring Temma carries both. "It's kind of a political statement in saying that these people exist." He adds that they are a reminder that "Jesus came for the lost and the least."

It is no accident that his work would be infused with issues of faith. He is the son of American medical missionaries who served in South Korea in the 1960s, and Lowly himself graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. His wife, Sherrie, who he married in 1981, is a Methodist minister in Chicago.

Lowly often paints from photographic images, even if the pictures are out of focus or blurred because of movement. In 2002, a reviewer wrote, "Of course painting from snapshots is one way of keeping his images rooted in the physical world. Giving his forms just enough detail to seem precise but just enough softness to be suggestive, he creates a tension between that which is reproducible by photograph and that which is influenced not by optics but by faith."

His statements are not overt, however. "I'm interested in making art that's not comfortable, in making people think," he says. "At the same time, I'm not interested in making art that is a sledgehammer over the head."

In recent years, Lowly has been recording music. On the album of liturgical music named for his painting "Cradled," he reworks traditional pieces that are interspersed with his own compositions. Lowly's tenor arrangements recall John Michael Talbot.

Even in his music, Temma's influence is experienced. Her labored breathing is heard in the opening moments of "Nobody Knows." Lowly says, "I didn't realize at the time she was getting sick."

He first recorded Temma for a composition inspired by Psalm 130. The sounds would gradually flow into his song "Riverside," which can be heard on his MySpace account. The lyrics that include, "Sit with me. Be my riverside," are reflective of Lowly's relationship with his daughter.

"My relationship to Temma is that of a riverbank to a river," he says. "All I can do is just be there for her."