Artist Gaeten Lowrie’s mantra is a familiar one: strength in numbers. That’s why the Raleigh native started Wilmington’s Thrive Studios in 2009. The brick-and-mortar studio and gallery space is now shuttered, but the artists that make up this small collective are still collaborating. And Lowrie leads the bill for the group’s latest display of work at Blue Surf Café, now through early August.
“Thrive Studios is a group of like-minded artists, and a lot of our art is what you call ‘nontraditional’ art,” explains Lowrie, a self-taught, self-described “street” artist with a penchant for the canvas, not sidewalks. “What we’re doing is not like your high-end portraiture work. I call it ‘lowbrow art.’”
Lowbrow doesn’t at all embody the spirit of Lowrie’s work. His paintings are captivating. Bright pigments almost illuminate the page, as if his stained glass-like mosaics are windows to another world.
Prints of these pieces are among those on display at Blue Surf Café. Lowrie also invited Thrive artists Mike Watters, Drew Swinson, Zak Duff, and Hazardo to showcase work.
“Initially, we formed a collective because, like a lot of other nontraditional artists, we were seeking better representation in town,” Lowrie explains. “There’s an advantage to working together: We bring strength in numbers.”
Whlie Lowrie continues to show work alongside his comrades, he also was invited by local gallery owner Joan Loch to display work at Crescent Moon. Specifically, the gallery is the only one in town to feature Lowrie’s signature pen-and-inks.
“When Joan approached me about my work, it was something I actually put on the back burner for years,” Lowrie tells. “I basically had to reteach myself the process.”
Four grueling months later, he has nine original pen-and-inks showing at the downtown gallery. One is titled “The River Between Us” (18-x-24 inches, pen and ink). According to Lowrie, it consists of a dialogue of two trees with a river between them; the river is their source of life but ultimately is separates them. Still, the trees slowly grow toward each other, year after year.
The growth parallels Lowrie’s as well. He describes his process as laborious and unforgiving. “Unlike paint, the ink cannot be reworked once it’s dry,” Lowrie notes. “I have to work on sections at a time, being careful not to smudge or over-handle the paper.”
The last two steps are also time-intensive for the artist. He painstakingly creates what he calls “grout work,” using either paint pens or crow quill pens hand-dipped in India ink. Finally, he adds metallic inks to highlight different elements. Given the reception of his pen-and-ink pieces, it’s hard to believe the artist ever abandoned the process. “In terms of my art, I have a lot of different styles because I get bored and mix it up,” he says.
Lowrie does so quite literally, often layering paint, sand and dirt onto large canvases to mimic the texture of a concrete wall. This way, his lines still have rough, blown-out edges when he’s working with spray paint.
“I do a lot of spray paint art and stencil work—what we consider graffiti,” he shares. “But we’re not talking about ruining buildings.”
In fact, the artist is working on building something himself: a stronger art community in Wilmington. “The goal of Thrive Studios has always been one of support,” Lowrie notes. “We’re not just there to hang out, which we often do. We’re also there to help each other and represent each others’ work.”
In addition to Lowrie, Watters, Swinson, Duff and Hazardo, members of Thrive Studios include Scott Ehrhart, Zachariah Weaver, Bryan Stacy, Rob Fogle, Robb Hassler, Miranda Duncan, J. Lance Strickland, G. Scott Queen and Jason Jones.