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Clive Rowe: Possible Prophet of a “Terrible Beauty”

Harmony 458824, Digital Art, 33 x 23
Even an artist engaged with state-of-the-art new media must be beholden to a tradition, in order to sustain a sophisticated and consciously avant garde aesthetic practice. Or so Clive Rowe, a lifelong photographer presently experimenting with manipulating his own images by means of computer technology, seems to imply, in a lengthy artist statement that sheds light on his recent work.
    Rowe’s artistic heritage includes his great aunt Marjorie Hilda Richardson, a painter and Prix de Rome recipient who married Paul Tietjens, a composer; as well his great uncle Samuel V. Rowe, a textile designer whose work is featured in several prestigious English museum collections. However, the artistic tradition to which Rowe himself proudly belongs is that of Man Ray and other early 20th century photographers who expanded the horizons of their medium beyond the merely representational function to which champions of painting alone might have been happy to relegate it.
    For Rowe picks up where “Rayographs” and other twentieth century photographic modernist innovations left off, employing the digital print to, as he puts it, explore “ideas, aesthetics, philosophies that are better expressed not through sharp images but through forms, shapes and colours which are more atmospheric and maybe able to hold the viewers’ attention and to communicate with them.”
    This is no easy task in the postmodern era, given the glut of pluralistic approaches now extant and the difficulty of any particular mode of expression distinguishing itself in a manner that makes a meaningful connection with the art of past centuries. However, Rowe’s prints, all of which are untitled (presumably to avoid burdening his images with preconceptions that may hinder the viewers’ imaginative freedom), succeed splendidly in his stated desire: “to challenge the conventional and the obvious” in order to “overturn the banal and to enliven the ordinary.” They do so by virtue of the artist’s skill in creating compositions which  juxtapose dynamic geometric forms that not only bend, contort, and morph in various fascinating ways, but veer back and forth from the two-dimensional picture plane into deep space, with radiant colors composed of pure light.
    Indeed, Rowe’s compositions exploit the possibilities of digital manipulation in a manner that not only advances the cause of his medium but reinforces the case for abstract art as an ongoing endeavor in an era when all too many are all too willing to claim that its potential may have exhausted itself.
    One of Rowe’s most notable contributions is in projecting a sense of kinetic energy that brings his prints alive in new and exciting ways distinctly different from those of painting. For even as they signal new directions for abstraction, these compositions simultaneously reflect the shifts and flux of contemporary reality in regard to the air conditioned nightmare of the science fiction malls and other artificial environments that we presently inhabit, and which show every sign of remaining our dominant domain for some time to come.
    Perhaps this is the brave new world that the poet and naturalist Gary Snyder dismisses as the realm of “No Nature.” If so, it is a world of our own making, one we must learn to live with. In which case, Clive Rowe may well be in the vanguard of those artists who will ultimately reveal to us its own peculiar beauty.
       –– by Peter Wiley

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