Kim Lowe is the recipient of the 2019 Olivia Spencer Bower Award

News News & events

15 Nov 2018

Ara Art & Design tutor Kim Lowe has been recognised as one of the country’s most promising artists and will receive support and funding to create a new body of work next year.

Lowe was awarded the prestigious Olivia Spencer Bower (OSB) Award, which comes with a $30,000 grant and a 2019 residency in a newly opened studio in the Christchurch Arts Centre.  

Vessel III 2018 by artist Kim Lowe (right)

The 32nd recipient of the award, Lowe follows in the footsteps of prominent New Zealand artists and past OSB recipients Pauline Rhodes, Seraphine Pick, Hannah Beehre, Robert Hood and Miranda Parkes.

Identity informs artwork

Lowe’s work, which draws on traditional Chinese painting techniques of tonal washes with detailed calligraphic brush techniques, helps her to explore her mixed Southland Chinese ancestry.  

As a fourth generation Chinese in Invercargill, the young Lowe struggled with the high visibility of her family. “My grandparents had a fruit shop from the 1930s and I grew up working in our Chinese restaurant. It seemed really unfair at the time that I had to always be working when all of my friends were having fun, and I often resented this.”

Tertiary studies changed her thinking. “At art school I had Marilynn Webb as a tutor. She was an [Arthur] Tovey trained artist and teacher (alongside Ralph Hotere, Cliff Whiting et al). They made sure every school had a printing press, a darkroom, a kiln and also began the renaissance in contemporary Maori art. Marilynn made me realise the wealth of symbolism in traditional art and really encouraged her students to explore their own identity.  

Webb has influenced Dunedin’s art students for over 35 years, as well as carving out her own artistic success, participating in 180 exhibitions and over 35 curated exhibitions, including internationally. She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999.  

Experimentation and creativity

Completing her studies, Lowe became a secondary school art teacher herself, then completed a Master’s qualification at University of Canterbury, later became a part time tutor at Ara, and has also helped to set up community art spaces in New Brighton Toi Te Karoro, and more recently Te Kura Tawhito, The Old School New Brighton.

She tutors at all levels of Art & Design at Ara from foundation students to the Bachelor of Design degree, and supervises post-graduate students as well. With well-known Ara art and creativity tutor Henry Sunderland, she helped to plan Ara’s new Certificates of Creativity and Creative Digital Media and Design.  

“Experimentation is a huge part of what we do in art and creativity. I mean, if you think about the design process, it begins with generating new ideas. You have to be able to play before you get to the stage where you can take any new design to the public. We need to invest in time and space to do that. It’s also very open ended, we don’t know where creativity will lead us but who knows, we could be solving some future problems just by playing with ideas, materials and processes.”

Under the terms of the award Lowe can‘t exhibit next year, which she acknowledges will free her up to focus on making work. She can teach up to 10 hours a week, however, and will continue to be a familiar face around Ara inspiring the next generation of creative art teachers and practitioners.  

Read: Art Beat magazine reports on Lowe’s approach to her artwork.

See: Lowe's work at Chambers art gallery, until 17th November. The exhibition is Kim Lowe (M)other & John Wishart Bi-products.