PAUL LOWRY

My work has been associated with auto-engenderment. I believe this term is well suited and provides the right context for understanding the manner in which I interweave historical, autobiographical and metafictional elements.

Combining photomontage and self-portraiture evokes a chain of apparent contradictions such as; active/passive, interior/exterior, mirror/window, and theatre/laboratory, that are at the heart of my image-making. My creative process is a Strange Loop formed by a mind observing itself.

The protagonist of my imagery is also the protagonist of my life. Since 1988, my work follows the evolution of its author/character who struggles against the assumption that he can ever be truly visible to the camera. Migrating through a chain of theoretical models, he tests their ability to optically scrutinize his inner self.This quest challenges the belief that the world’s surfaces are intelligible and that the lens can decipher and transcribe them. It is also motivated by a denial of the notion of objectivity as well as a rejection of any theory of mapping the human mind or spirit.

After a series of montages satirizing phrenology, physiognomy and anthropometry, my attention finally turned to the mother of all rational systems, the left hemisphere of the brain. Separating the left and right brains in the context of self-portraiture displaces this struggle against abstracted rational systems into the heart of the human psyche and suggests that it is the fundamental source for the blind and insatiable quest of human genius, even at the expense of its own survival.

In 2008, while working on a series of mirrored self-portraits which produced two distinct faces from each half of my face, I saw the Jill Bolte Taylor TED conference “stroke of insight “. I was moved by Bolte Taylor’s discovery that we each harbour a deeply social being who is firmly rooted in the direct experience of the world, but who is dominated and obscured by the insensitive, rational left hemisphere of the brain.

Following the experience of this video, I started using the asymmetry of my face to represent the two faces of each side of my brain. Using my own psychological profile, I developed two different personalities associated with each cerebral hemisphere, dividing the attributes according to the neurological model.

Paul Lowry was the biographical protagonist of our work from 1988 to 1999. The author/character Paul Lowry's biography was largely based on our own. The series of works featuring him are; Photographs from the Grand Academy of Lagado (1990), Copulation studies (1993), Manfigures (1996) and Physiognomy Studies (1999). He also appears briefly in La Dioptrique (2002) where he is gradually replaced by plasticine figures.

In Physiognomy Studies Paul Lowry embarks on a voyage into his own psyche. He compares his venture to Dante’s in the Devine Comedy.  In place of Virgil he uses Darwin’s The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals as his guiding light, a work which owes its fundamental premise to the Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater's theory of physiognomy. 

Darwin and his associate Duchene de Boulogne provide him with a photographic method to decipher the intelligible traces of his own face and reveal its underlying truths. After some successes with photographs of his profile Paul Lowry soon realises that consistent results cannot be obtained by applying the physiognomic model to frontal views of his face, unless each side is analysed separately.

Further research brings him to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes where he learns how the left and right brain provide the mind with two distinct, and in many ways opposing states of consciousness. He discovers that the asymmetry of his face is simply the surface manifestation of a deeper dichotomy corresponding to the two distinct hemispheres of the brain.

He begins to understand that, much like conjoined twins sharing a single body, he is driven by a fused antithetical pair of brains. In a marvellous self-swallowing paradox the author/character Paul Lowry, a montage artist of autobiographical works, discovers that he himself is a composite. He creates the Brothers Paul, his own biographical protagonists which he believes, with some small amount of tinkering, could have the potential to mirror the human mind.

See also Brothers Paul Illuminated Journal.