Writings on the Cube: A memoir

Kris Rosar photo: "Cube" and its creator, Judy Lowry, on her farm near Durham in Grey County..
Judy Lowry's picture
A graduate of Sheridan College in Creative Art and from the School of Craft and Design, Judy Lowry has lived and worked in Grey County since 1986. Previous to that she taught in the commercial ceramics department at George Brown College in Toronto from 1975 to 1985. Since 1975 she has exhibited in over 50 shows including ones in Sweden, Germany, U.S.A. and New Zealand. In 1991 she was involved in a studio exchange in Germany and in 1995 she completed a Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity residency in the clay studios. Lowry is a long-time teacher of children at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound. She has also taught for the Learning Through the Arts program in Grey Bruce both for the Catholic and public school boards. Her most recent show was at the Thornbury Library in 2015 along with fellow contributors from the book, “backroad craft: Fine Craft in Grey and Bruce Counties,” published in 2014.




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Shortly after my 2001 exhibit, “Overt/Covert,” the next piece/sculpture I wanted to make popped into my head. I would build a cube. The form was clear, the dimensions set: 8ft.x8ft.8ft. I had been asked to exhibit in a group show and I assumed the cube would be for that show. In truth, it would take seven years to build and exhibit my cube. This is the story of that cube. The story has not stopped; it is still going on. The 40-some components are at this moment buried under snow sitting on a concrete pad waiting for me to reassemble them.

Judy Lowry photo: "Cube" in snow in Grey County.

When I conceived “Cube,” I knew it would be made of components or modules, and I settled on the dimensions and shape. I created a paper template and was convinced this was my module: 18in.x15in.x6in. I sat with the paper template for a couple of years and showed it to other artists with the hope that it would be made for a group show called “Fragments,” at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound that Stephen Hobgin, a local artist and curator, had asked me to be in. But when Stephen established the timeline and the number of artists to be included, it became apparent “Cube” wouldn’t work for that show.

At that same time Joan Hawksbridge, another local artist, and I had conceived of a show with Sylvie Bussières, an installation artist who we had both met at Banff. We felt that a show with the three of us would be incredible. There was something about our sensibilities that we were convinced would work together. I looked again longingly at the possibility of my cube. Our three-person show was to be in early 2006 at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, and if my memory serves me well it was stop and start, stop and start in terms of working time. I knew there was not enough time to complete “Cube.”

To accurately explain my cube I must digress and go back to when and how my first wire work began, because “Cube” is “wire work.”

In 1995, I was lucky enough to go to the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity for a 10-week thematic residency, “Role of Ritual,” in the centre’s clay studio. I was accepted, I believe, largely on my installation piece, “Two Chairs,” and a related eight-minute video of a 1992 performance that used the piece as the setting.

I had attempted to be a studio artist since 1985, but after leaving Toronto and my status as an educator I seemed to slide into a place of absolute obscurity. I often worked in clay and had always had trouble with being considered a craftsperson when I felt I was an artist. So when I walked into the studio in 1985, the intent was to discover what artist I indeed was.

I had been indoctrinated in the exhibition approach — that my value would come in direct relation to how often I exhibited. That was my job. And so, before leaving for Banff, my feelings of failure and underachievement were quite strong. Banff taught me a number of things, or rather I learned and taught myself a number of things at Banff, not the least of which being that the truest sense of the artist in me was the risk taker. The Banff experience was in fact a rediscovering of the artist I always knew I was.

After Banff I returned to my studio space on the farm I share with Jim Louie near Williamsford in Grey County and rode on this high for quite a while, open to all and any possibility. Yet it would take two years before I stumbled on my wire work.

One thing that has to be made clear at this point is that since the recession of the early 1990s, things had become more and more difficult economically. One of my great challenges as an artist was not being able to afford materials. When I returned from Banff I worked on a piece, “Artifacts and Tools,” that owed its aspect to extended carving to shape small amounts of material. In this way, I could focus without having to spend a great amount on supplies.

Judy Lowry photo: "Artifacts and Tools"

It was during this time that I looked out the studio window and spied the wire suet container hanging from the apple tree. I asked Jim if I could have it, as he had made it for the birds. In it I placed meticulously finished small shards of glazed clay, and the wire work began.

I started small, buying small sections of fencing wire to make containers of a similar size to the suet container. After those, I made larger forms — only a couple — and glazed shards to place in them. The next work was a little larger yet and used a ceramic disc shape. To create the shape, I allowed clay left in the bottom of a plastic garbage pail to harden and then carved and fired it. One side was glazed partially; the other side was painted with acrylics. Surrounded and encased in its wire cage, the disc stood with both circles facing outward.

I was very fond of this work, but soon understood the material and weight limits of a solid piece of clay. I wanted to increase my scale. I have always been more comfortable with a larger, more human scale. Somehow, I would have to find some way of decreasing weight.

Judy Lowry photo: "Disc"

When I scaled up, I began with a floor piece, long, low and divided into sections so that not all of the form contained ceramic shards. The shards were from a sculpture that Kathy Zsolt, a Toronto artist, had left on the farm after she went to the United States. I had helped her with the piece, a figurative work, a number of years before. The work comprises several earthenware elements, and over the years of sitting on the concrete pad these had broken up into a pile of shards. Walking around the pile at some point while beginning on my larger forms brought the recognition that I had ready-made material. The low-fired earthenware had taken on a mouldy green patina like rocks forming moss on their surfaces. I gathered up the shards and so began the series that would become “Overt/Covert.”

That Christmas Jim gave me a roll of the wire. He’d been working part time at the Tom Thomson as an installation technician, but even with that financial stability I could not bring myself to buy materials. So when Jim gave me the roll of wire I was free to advance. I had wire and I had shards.

In April 2000 Fred Milsum, then-director of the Tom Thomson, came to the studio. I think I had three to four works completed. He mentioned the possibility of a show. By May, he’d booked a show for the following year, February 2001.

As always, the time frame was tight. But I had not had a one-person show for years and I was ecstatic. I created nine large wire works. And within a year of dismantling that show I had conceived “Cube.”

In “Overt/Covert” I had done one work called “9 Cubes,” which comprised nine cubes, each 2ft.x2ft.x18in. The cubes sat side-by-side on the floor. I realized later that my 8ft.x8ft.8ft. “Cube” was a direct leap from the nine-cube piece.

Judy Lowry photo: "Nine Cubes" (ground) and "Segments" (wall).

The scale of “Cube” related to the amount of open space in the studio. I could create that scale if I emptied most of the studio.

I jokingly referred to “Cube” as my Borg Cube. The Borg was an aggressive group of aliens on the television show, Star Trek, Next Generation. They assimilated their enemies and turned them into machine/organic hybrid warriors who shared consciousness and travelled space in giant cubes. But then people started to take the reference literally and tried to use it as a way to interpret “Cube.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Abstraction fuels my work. Materials, form and colour foster an environment or mood but are not used to create linear narratives of any sort. MY "Cube" had its own very definite aesthetics which I was working hard to achieve.

When I began work on the Grimsby show that was to open in 2006, I think I thought I could pull off “Cube.” One summer, I can’t remember which, Jim had carved three salmon for a river piece that he was making. As he carved away I took stock of the spare pieces of wood falling to the grass. I got open flat boxes from the No Frills grocery store in Owen Sound and boxed them up. The boxes stacked, making it easy to store and see the wood pieces. I laid a piece of white paper out on the floor, marked off my 8ft.x8ft.x8ft and laid out the pieces.

One advantage of the wood was that it was light. I still collected other materials. Discarded plaster moulds that Jim had used for his clay work. Pieces from my own red earthenware sculpture, nicknamed “Carrots,” as they fell into the garden. I was working on some oil paintings inspired by a small book of watercolours I had worked on for several years. I mixed up the oil colours in glass jars, as was my fashion, and began painting the ends of the cuts of wood. All pieces received colour regardless of their size or shape. First one side and then, after that side had dried, the other side. At one point wood pieces covered the entire paper being used as a guide. I returned the dried pieces to the cardboard boxes.

I had received photographs of the gallery and still hoped to put “Cube” there. But the task of painting the wood seemed endless and the materials accumulated minimal. Certainly not enough in time for the show. So manifesting “Cube” for Grimsby became an impossibility.

Instead, when I began on the Grimsby show I simply made the module form I had envisioned would be used to build “Cube” and see what resulted. I made 33 of the modules and created a floor work called “33 Rectangles.” I was very happy with the results but still mourning not being able to create “Cube.”

“33 Rectangles” was not the only piece for Grimsby. I also created “88 Cubes” out of the wire cast-offs from the patterns for “33 Rectangles.” The size of the castoffs determined the size of each cube in “88 Cubes.” Because the wire castoffs were not full modules, I used stove-pipe wire to attach the parts into one. The modules in “88 Cubes” were not fully enclosed. Red shards of clay, painted in the same manner as the wood in “33 Rectangles,” jutted out of their tops.

“88 Cubes” was a “game” in that its components could be moved. I was very fond of “88 Cubes,” possibly because it was a new direction (I had done one “game” before in 1984, very different). I considered “88 Cubes” a positive result, whereas “33 Rectangles” was a good work but still made me think of my unfulfilled “Cube.”

I got to show “88 Cubes” again in January 2007 in “Fragments,” the show Stephen Hogbin curated at the Tom Thomson, and I was able to periodically reconfigure it during the show’s run. I had wanted to do the same thing at Grimsby but it wasn’t feasible because the gallery was too far away from where I lived.

Judy Lowry photo: "88 Cubes"

Between the show at Grimsby and the show at Tom Thomson I went through a period of anger. Extreme anger. I now believe that subconsciously I was angry at not being able to do “Cube.” I felt undervalued and not appreciated in my country. The direction I had chosen had not borne fruit. What fruit I was seeking was unclear. I was overwhelmed with a sense of underachievement. And to pile salt on my wounds, most of the time if I articulated my feelings the response was, “What was the matter with me?” “I should be grateful to have a show period!” “Why was I discontent?” “Why did I want more?”

And of course I had to ask myself all kinds of questions. Who was I doing work for? Why did I continue if I was so unhappy? What did I expect?

What I had expected was to be able to excel at the level I wanted to. I never imagined the barriers in my way. Why was my work not more celebrated? Why were more opportunities not given to me? It seemed the earlier part of my career had been more blessed and the part since becoming strictly a studio artist (two-thirds of my career) had been more difficult. My road seemed to be a dead end. Despair spent the better part of its time with me.

And then, low and behold, came a phone call in June 2007.

Jonathan Smith, the curator at the Art Gallery of Burlington, wanted to know if I would exhibit work in the gallery’s courtyard for June 2008. The courtyard was the one space I wanted to show in, but I was uncertain. After the “Fragments” group show, I had in fact decided not to show again. What irony that the one space I still wanted to show in, Burlington’s courtyard, should be the call I got.

I knew I had to take the opportunity; it would not come again. So sometime in July I drove south to Burlington, a two-and-a-half-hour drive, to take a look. I was extremely tired, worn out, really. Earlier that year Jim had had a shoulder operation, and I had spent the winter shoveling snow on my own, as well as working part time and doing Learning Through the Arts sessions.

At the courtyard I took photos and pulled out a tape measure to evaluate a flat area that as soon as I saw it brought “Cube” to mind. The area was elevated, covered with ground cover and — I couldn’t believe my luck —more than large enough to take “Cube.” I was ecstatic. I got excited.

Jonathan and I sat at one of the tables in the courtyard and went over the details. He told me that the mandate for exhibiting in the courtyard required a work for the pond, too. I just kept repeating, “it’s so much bigger than I remember,” “it’s so much bigger than I remember” — meaning the courtyard.

When I got into the van to go home my heart quickened and my whole future brightened. I was going to make “Cube.” But the realization produced both exhilaration and terror. June 2008 wasn’t far away. Could I do it?

I planned to start work on Sept. 1, 2007. I had run into Stuart Reid, the director at the Tom Thomson at that time, and he indicated I could get an exhibition assistance grant, so I was feeling good about the practicalities of doing the show. The last thing I wanted to do was put extra financial burden on Jim’s and my circumstances. The short time frame was a little worrisome, but I so wanted to make “Cube” happen.

For the pond piece I had realized very soon after the meeting with Jonathan that I wanted to make a figure. I had not made a figure, well since 1997 when I participated in a show where artists were paired with sexual assault victims. Returning to figurative work felt exciting. The work, called “Marah’s Prayer,” would sit diametrically opposed to “Cube.” It would have an undetermined number of fired clay discs that would sit in, below and above the water.

Beginning, however, soon proved to be more difficult than I realized. My studio was a mess. I knew it would have to be completely reconfigured to accommodate working on the cube and to begin creating the discs.

There were other distractions. The first week in September, a bat bit me. We’d known there was a bat flying around the bedroom. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back I noticed Edwina, one of our cats, in the upstairs hall. She’d briefly caught the bat, and when I moved past her, it escaped and flew to the back of my calf leg where it clung, the softest velvety sensation of my life.

I screamed, shook my leg and bolted into the bedroom. Jim said I screamed like a girl. The incident would have been forgotten if it hadn’t been for a news story a week and a half later about a woman who had been attacked by a bat at a bus shelter. Doctors urged her to get medical help, so I saw my doctor who immediately started me on rabies shots, six that day. I was a bit freaked.

I tried to spend October rearranging the studio and working out some sort of schedule. The first week of November was lost to a sinus infection but by the second week I had begun.

SLIDESHOW: Cube in Detail

Kris Rosar photos

The first job was to drag seven small cubes from the concrete circle by the barn to the studio. Jim had suggested using those as the base, or part of the base. They were the 1in.x1in. fencing wire, and six of them contained heavy supports. The modules would support what I wanted to put on top.

Once they were in the studio I worked out the components to make. The module size for this attempt at the cube would be much larger than in the past. I had learned this from the Grimsby show: Forty-some modules were more manageable than two hundred and some.

For most of the piece I wanted to use the 2in.x2in. fencing wire. It was cheaper, half the price of the other wire. I knew the sense I wanted to achieve, how the work should feel: an open and light aesthetic yet dense at the core. My older wire work was now sometimes just too physically heavy for me to handle. I didn’t want to regret having made “Cube” when I went to move it. There was little doubt that I would have to move the work mostly on my own. The days of having extensive help were over.

I was going to have studio help, though, which was great. Jim, knowing my tight time frame volunteered to fire my discs.

There were 33 discs to be made on a schedule of two a week. I worked on them every Saturday. Each disc took one bag of clay which I rolled out using the slab roller. (Because we had sold timber wood from our back woodlots, I was able to buy clay, the first in ages.) I had made two forms out of clay to drape the slabs over and placed them on my large working table. It took the whole day to roll, drape and cut the two discs.

It was a good plan because the discs got to sit the whole week, taken off the form after day four or five and set on another table to dry. All the discs had to be made by April to allow the time to glaze. Bisquing commenced as soon as the first three or four discs were dry. That is all that fit into our small bisque kiln. The discs were cut varying sizes so that the largest could go on top. The others below were just slightly smaller to fit in between the stilts in the kiln.

Even now looking back I can’t figure out how I managed to create 33 of them. I must have started in October and finished the first of April or the middle of April. I do know, I could not let up. I worked in the studio every day with the exception of Fridays when I dyed wool at a neighbouring farm. The clay that was cut away from the discs was saved and used to create the figure. This seemed perfect to me, to use the leftover clay to complete the work.

I decided not to start on the figure until January. It was late but there were all of those components to make for “Cube” — 44 cubes over and above the seven existing ones used in the base row.

My time was extremely tight. I had to work everyday as much as I could, a five- to six-hour day cutting, bending and forming wire. I had two concerns. I wasn’t sure there was enough clay material (shards I had created and collected) so what to put in the interior of the outside modules? Dark red shards would occupy the deep interior of the cube. I was going to use 1in.x1in. wire for the core, the inside section, for a more dense look. Fortunately, Joan Hawksbridge had called me around this time and informed me she had Meaford sewer tiles I could use. I gratefully jumped at the chance and loaded them into the van and took them to the studio. That took care of the interior area of the cube. But what to use in the outside modules?

After the “Overt/Covert” show at Tom Thomson in 2001 I had started to create solid forms of reclaimed clay. I poured the slip made from the reclaimed clay in the mould and then cut the forms. The process produced half circles and I was using mostly white clay. I wanted the cube to be red and white. But I didn’t have enough of the created slip forms. I wanted the exterior of the cube to be airy and the interior dense. I knew I was going to use leftover cable wire Jim had laying around but what else to use?

I had pulled out boxes of small wire pieces that had been in a work called “Segments” in Overt/Covert. “Segments” had comprised 60 small wire works hung on the wall in four horizontal rows with 15 boxes to a row. I had given away a few of the boxes and sold a few. I picked one up and tried it in the first module I had made for “Cube,” and my word, I had the solution. They would be perfect. Most of them had clay in them and they would balance well with the solid forms. So I was ready to start the months-long task of “Cube.”

Judy Lowry photo: "33 Rectangles"

I had to work out a pattern, the best way to cut the wire so that the roll of wire was used to the best advantage. A roll of 1in.x1in. wire was $240.00, the 2in.x2in. wire was $140.00. It was too discouraging to go into debt for my work. Breakeven, that was hard to do as well. I had to feel I was rewarded somehow for all my effort.

It had become one of the saddest legacies of being an exhibiting artist, one of the main reasons I was so angry for that period: It seemed no value was placed on my work. My gross “earnings” for “Cube,” for example, would be $3,000 and was made up of an exhibition assistance grant of $1,500 and another $1,500 for exhibiting. I can’t remember if I received additional payment for participating in the symposium and an artist talk, both of which took place during the show. If so, the amount would have been nominal, an honorarium. I could never bring myself to add up all my expenses, let alone time spent in making the work. I’d rather believe I made at least a few hundred dollars. I know in my heart this is not true.

The modules that would make up the remainder of the bottom row were shorter than the rest of the new modules. They would be companions of the seven cubes from “Overt/Covert” and were only three feet in length. Their width would be the same as the modules above them. I needed six of these as well as 26 of the larger modules for rows two, three and four. The interior core required 16 heavier, denser modules of a smaller size made with the 1in.x1in. wire.

Kris Rosar photos: Details of "Cube."

Day in and day out, I worked as hard as I could. I made up calendars as well as a schedule to show completion within the time frame was possible. I obsessed. I stuck to the schedule even when exhausted. What choice was there? There was finite time and I wanted to build “Cube.” The pressure would be worse if I didn’t fulfill this work, this opportunity.

Five to six, maybe seven hours was the average workday, sometimes longer but it was not the time that was the challenge. It was the focus, the concentrated activity, the wear on my muscles in the cutting and crimping of the wire. I took up going to Sandy, my massage therapist (I would spend $770 on massage therapy the year “Cube” was built). I had gone to Sandy during my work on “Overt/Covert.” Overworked muscles in my right shoulder had become a source of chronic pain, and when the condition flared up it caused extreme headaches. So when I did “Cube” I tried very hard to not do one task for too long. Do a bit of cutting, not a whole day of cutting and ditto to every other process. My job dyeing wool once a week added to the strain.

So I worked steadily in that nebulous gray zone that happens when you produce new work to a deadline. What will the two pieces be? Will they be what I want? Do I know what I’m doing? But on the other side of that uncertainty lay the exhilaration that comes from the pure process of discovery as the work unfolds. I could not do a piece that was entirely worked out and then just build it. That would be incredibly boring for me. It is the intuitive random aspect of process that cranks me. I am happiest in the middle of a work, not at the start or the end but generally in the middle. It was the same for “Cube” — with the exception that seeing it up and in the courtyard at Burlington was probably one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experiences of my artistic life.

No matter how much I planned it, the last two months of building “Cube” were quite the challenge. By then, “Cube” was three quarters finished. The figure was near the completion of building too. All the discs were made but had yet to be glazed.  

Jonathan, the curator, came in April and seemed genuinely excited about ”Cube.” This helped me through those last two months, but such a huge amount of work remained and I knew I was getting tired. To complicate matters, Jim had suddenly received a public art commission in connection with the development of the new Grey Bruce Health Unit building in Owen Sound. It is always added pressure on us when we are both working on projects at the same time. And it was! Thank God his wasn’t due until September but still it was a big project. I remember him spending weeks on the drawings and design, going to meetings and then having to modify the drawings and then back into Owen Sound for meetings again. Jim had volunteered to do all my firings for me and he did, despite being so busy. I will be forever grateful to him for that gift he gave me.

Judy Lowry photo: "Untitled," 1995.

The figure was to be a fountain surrounded by 33 discs. When I first started making it I realized, as I had said, that I had not made a figure since 1997. In 1995 in Banff, I had worked on an untitled work made up of two standing figures and two fallen figures. After it was shown I had to destroy it because I was refused a grant to ship it back and didn’t have the money to do so myself. I was only able to ship back the drawings that accompanied the figures due to a friend giving me $100 to mail them back. The figures ended up in a dumpster out the back of the studios.

I did not realize the full impact of that destruction until I began building this figure for Burlington.

Even before going to Banff I knew any large works I made would have to be left behind. We could not afford the shipping fees. Yet I knew also I could not afford to pass up the opportunity to spend time at the centre which came with a free studio, clay, free firings and a place to show. I had been unable to do large-scale clay work for years; I couldn’t afford the clay. And while I wasn’t able to take home the work, there were benefits. Creating that work changed me. It made me more confident, in fact it restored my confidence.

Only when I started to build the figure for “Marah’s Prayer” did I feel the extent to which it had hurt to give up the work in such a way. Building the four figures at Banff was an extremely positive experience; it also broke part of my heart that I could not ship them home. Bravado was at work when I said it didn’t affect me. This all came out as I squeezed the coils for each row on “Marah’s Prayer.” And so “Cube” reintroduced me as well to my love of figurative work.

Judy Lowry photo: "Marah's Prayer" at the Burlington Art Gallery, 2008.

Time wound down for transporting the work to Burlington. I was never able to completely assemble “Cube” in advance of the show in the studio. It was just too much work. It seemed like double work. I had to concentrate on finishing and glaze-firing the discs and firing and painting the figure. May is a blur. I don’t remember much of it except tensions were high. I know I was exhausted.

On the third week of May, Jim and I went into town to pick up the cube van for 5 p.m. We loaded it after we got back. We arranged the van rental like that to avoid an extra day’s charge. Gasoline was very expensive then, and I was trying to keep costs down.

In retrospect, I would have done it differently. We were both tired and the extra-long day caused great strain between us. To make matters worse, the next morning Jim went to secure the back door of the van and fell off the back injuring his side. I was worried he had cracked a rib. I knew I could not drive the cube van down by myself but I did not want him to come feeling that bad. He did come. I drove most of the way down as he tried to deal with his pain. It helped to have him as support as I was exhausted.

”Cube” sat in the courtyard with plastic as I spent the rest of the week firing the remainder of the discs, packing them and painting the figure. The following Monday I went down on my own. The van was crammed; there was no room for anyone else. After unloading the work, I went to my mother’s house in Port Credit where I stayed overnight. Early Tuesday morning I went over and started the process of assembly and installation that did not end until Friday at noon. I was running on adrenalin and feeling particularly nervous about getting the cube just right, shimmed with cedar shingles so it wouldn’t sink into the ground. The modules needed to be tight enough together in the placing to create the flawless effect of a solid work. Windows from the gallery’s hallways and studio spaces overlook the courtyard, and I felt as though I was on display doing a performance piece.

With an installation the focus is always intense. There is a vision you have in your head that you are trying to manifest. You cannot compromise, not for the sake of others. I had spent a year on this work and dreamt about it for six years. I had to do it the justice it deserved.

Finally, it was together. I was exhausted but ecstatic and went home, slept. My cube was up. I felt transformed. I would never be the same. I knew I would never be the same.

There was to be an opening on July 13th and a small symposium talking about craft, beauty and narrative. Soon after the installation was finished, I went to Toronto to look after my friend Elaine’s cats while she was travelling out West. I spent a great deal of time at Elaine’s preparing notes for the symposium. Here is what I wrote.

Jonathan came over to Elaine’s to deliver the invitations. It was very nice of him to do this and they were great, folding up into a small cube. All was coming together.

Jer, a friend from Detroit, came all that way for the weekend of the opening. Jim and I drove him down to Burlington on a Sunday, the day of the opening. Yes I was nervous, all openings make me nervous. There were not a lot of people there for a beautiful July day, but enough. I was truly touched by some of the people who came. Bob and Mary, all the way from London, Peter Harriss, Elaine, Mary-Ellen and Nancy. I felt I had arrived at a place where I had seen other artists at. Self-fulfilled, realized. It was not bravado, it was an earned rite of passage. I came away proud, transformed, whole. I had completed my cube. A lifetime of work to get to this spot, to this place.

Judy Lowry photo: "Cube" as it appeared at the Art Gallery of Burlington in 2008.

In August, I went back to the gallery on a weekday to meet Terry, a friend, at “Cube.” We took photographs of each other in the courtyard and then had an early dinner at Saigon on Brant. It was special to have time with my piece and my friend. Time without judgement; time without being on display; intimate time with my piece in its first setting.

In September I returned once again to Burlington to give a slide talk about my work. And as we dismantled the show at the end of that month, I fell into a bad funk. My entire being had gone into the work. I was toast. Brad, who worked at the gallery at the time, drove the van with the work back to the farm. We unloaded the modules onto the concrete pad near the barn. My intention was to reassemble the cube before winter but low and behold winter came before I could muster the energy to do that. And then began my year of discontent or maybe post show blues, with no desire to work.

In my entire 35-year artistic life I have never experienced a lack of desire to work — a lack of ability but not desire. It was like being out on a little boat in a huge sea paddling toward an unseen horizon. Friends said, “give it time. It will just take time.” But in truth I think I am at the end of a very long journey and “Cube” is the epicenter of that trip. Every time one creates a work one risks doing oneself in. I had taken that risk. I was depleted, empty.

SLIDESHOW: Views of Cube in its current setting

Kris Rosar photos

I started reassembling it on the farm on Oct. 6 2009, and it finally went together on Halloween of 2009.

It looks different than at Burlington. I had randomly reconfigured it so it could never be what it was at Burlington, but it does my heart good to see it every day. It is the result of all my effort and focus. Having “Cube” whole again is making me whole as an artist again. I long for my work again. It is like a taste in my mouth, it is like rediscovering myself. It is my future, an entirely new chapter, a new expedition.

— September 15, 2009

Kris Rosar photo: Judy Lowry and Jim Louie assemble "Cube" on their farm in 2009.


On Halloween day 2009 we reassembled “Cube.”

I don’t go over every day to see “Cube” but occasionally I feel the need to be close to it. I photographed it in the snow and in the summer heat. One time I ventured over and shook it, one side at a time, and realized I had created a rattle. Soon after, Jim said he spotted small crown-headed sparrows going in and out of it. He is convinced they are building nests inside the middle part, in the red sewer pipes.

I have not seen any evidence of the nests, although I have seen the birds going in and out. I cannot believe that they can get their bodies in between the wire’s 1in.x1in. openings.

I am back in my studio and working, although at a reduced capacity due to new health issues. There are no shows, and of that I am happy because I am giving myself time to venture wherever my work wants to go. I think now the reason I wrote Writings on a Cube was because I knew I was at the end of a very long process and I was transitioning to a new era.

I had literally held “Cube” in my head for five years before beginning work on it. It is the way I have worked for a long time, holding the work in my head, going back to it time and time again, but never before have I held a work for so long. Two years, sometimes three at most but not for this long.

Now, I have no piece in my mind that I dream about manifesting. I simply go into the studio as often as I can and begin work and see what comes.

— 2012

This story was edited by Mary Baxter.

SLIDESHOW: Putting Cube together

Kris Rosar photos: First image is of a piece from Overt Covert; remaining images are of details of Cube.

Writings on craft, beauty and narrative

By Judy Lowry

Craft is a categorization to me. I do not ascribe to categories. I am perplexed by the continuation of this term ascribed to certain mediums. It seems medieval to me. All mediums have elements of craft in them. But why some mediums still linger in the ghetto of “craft” is a mystery to me. So basically I try to ignore such structures, such class or elitist categories. To me they are holdovers from another time.

Beauty- Subjective and Elusive. Personal Definition: “when something, anything, someone strikes a chord in my heart.” Example — the landscape I’ve lived in for almost 23 years.

What is the connection between the two pieces in the courtyard?

Their connection is the space they are in. They were created specifically for this space. Their scale is crucial. Their content may differ but their presence in the space and especially the space around them, between them and that resulting relationship is paramount. And more than anything they are connected by my sense of aesthetic.

It’s more the space I give around them than the space they inhabit. Part of my sense of aesthetic has been for quite some time to create a whole out of disparaging parts. I equate it to standing on the edge of a cliff but not falling off. I like to see how far out I can lean.

Narrative slightly fits in with “Marah’s Prayer.” It was inspired by a practise I have done for a number of years. I take reject bowls and place them around my home/studio. I ritually wash them every week and place out clean water. It is for the animals, birds, toads and frogs and insects who live around my home. It is also for me, for the visual delight and because I do not live on water. The narrative in this piece is talking about that practise. There is no narrative in the cube that I am aware of. I consider it abstract. I approached it with a very abstract viewpoint/intent.

I do not go out of my way to concern myself with beauty, instead I have a very clear sense of what I want each work I make to exhibit. I spend all my energy and focus making sure I manifest that sense. If beauty comes along for the ride so be it but I am more concerned with being true to the integrity of the piece. I strive (once I become aware what the piece’s viewpoint is, or as I put it what the piece is about) to establish the absolute sense of the work.

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Bisque – initial firing in kiln to harden clay.
Forms – in this context forms created by pouring slip into a plaster drying form then allowed to stiffen and be cut into desired shapes.
Glaze – surface fired on bisqued clay to achieve a shiny or matt surface.
Mould – in this case plaster moulds used for slip-casting or reclaiming clay.

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