Labor of Lowe

In mid-July, three-dimensional sculptor Tristin Lowe made his first trip to Northeast Florida to transform the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville’s Haskell Atrium Gallery with four interconnected pieces of a solar system he calls “Under the Influence.”

The exhibit was originally displayed at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum and then at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With the help of MOCA’s curator, Ben Thompson, Lowe brought it south for a three-month run. The Philadelphia-based artist also hung around for a week during installation and held a lecture on his crazy lowbrow and labor-intensive art.

Lowe’s MOCA exhibit consists of cosmic creations constructed from felt, neon tubing and inflatable materials. The pièce de résistance, “Lunacy” (2010), is a replica of the moon, 12 feet, 6 inches in diameter, using an inflatable sphere covered in 14 sections of white felt sewn together and hand-worked to result in raised craters and rings approximating the moon’s terrain.

Two comets, “Grace” and “Nature,” three-dimensional pieces constructed from twisting, red neon tubes, are another focal point of Lowe’s Project Atrium installation. At 10 feet long, “Grace” and “Nature” is shaped much like a human sperm cell. He said it was inspired by the scientific speculation that the comets might have brought water and life itself to earth.

The final piece in Lowe’s exhibit is “Visither I,” another neon light sculpture that casts a dusky, purple-blue haze over the moon. “Visither I” is shaped like a rocket ship or satellite ­— giving a man-made feel to the other organic centerpieces.

Lowe is not a newcomer to the wacky world of art installation. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and studied at Parsons The New School for Design and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. And he’s shown his work all over the globe — from Wisconsin to Ireland to Australia.

Using relatively simple materials, Lowe creates complex sculptural systems that seem fantastical and humorous and sometimes just absurd. Two examples of his past work include a bed that continually wets itself and a foam figure that throws up on itself.

Lowe’s most well-known exhibit is “Mocha Dick,” a 700-pound, 52-foot rendering of the real-life albino sperm whale that terrorized whaling vessels in the early 19th century and inspired Herman Melville’s literary classic, “Moby Dick.” Lowe created the enormous piece ­— complete with barnacles ­— during a six-month collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.

Inspired by artists like Paul Thek, Francis Picabia, Gordon Matta-Clark, Rebecca Horn, Philip Guston and Louise Bourgeois, Lowe said his time studying at Mass Art was exceptionally influential.

“There’s an incredibly wide variety of equipment and facilities,” he said. “With all of the possibilities you’re given ­— from film and three-dimensional modeling to milling machines and glass-blowing ­— I was really able to begin to explore and experiment with different materials and approaches.”

Creating these massive installations can be pricey. On some occasions, Lowe’s work is commissioned by a museum. In the case of “Lunacy,” the large-scale, blow-up orb, the RISD’s Museum helped fund the project, though Lowe admitted, “With the comets, ‘Nature and Grace,’ that’s on me, and things do start to get a little expensive.”

When his show “Under the Influence” closes at MOCA at the end of October, Lowe said he’s not really sure where the exhibit will end up, but he’s “playing around with some new materials and working on a couple of other things,” including a 30-foot, neon blue comet. The sky’s the limit.

Kara Pound

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