Throw a stone in the southwest metro and you’re likely to give an artist a black eye. Our creative class is robustly healthy and many of its citizens shine. Meet studio artist, teacher of art history and filmmaker Kristen Lowe. “It would take a lot to get me to move from Chanhassen,” she says. “I truly believe that half of my studio is in the natural spaces that are so easily accessible to people in the southwest region.”
Natural spaces are the subject of Lowe’s recent documentary, Painting the Place Between, which follows four Minnesota landscape painters who share stories about their struggles with Minnesota weather, today’s want-it-now culture, as well as internal issues that “the audience doesn’t see in a finished exhibition—perseverance, doubts, and the commitment necessary to establish oneself in the professional artistic arena as a painter,” Lowe says.
Lowe earned a BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, as well as a master of fine arts in drawing, film and video at Tufts University and the Boston Museum School. That’s where she learned to love art films and make films about art, especially the “traditionally loaded” subjects therein. Her first documentary was about the complex relationship between the model and the artist.
Lowe is currently working with Emmy Award-winning producer Matt Goldman to co-produce her next documentary, Drawing Hope, about the clandestine art made by prisoners in the concentration camps during World War II. The film will explore these artworks in the context of the singular perspective of Elaine Scarry, a scholar of the psychological language of torture.
Howard Quednau, fine arts chair at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, recalls meeting Lowe some 20-odd years ago. “I met her [when she was] a drawing teacher,” Quednau says, “so it wasn’t until she did [Painting the Place Between] that I learned of her background, that she’d started out as a film major and has some documentary works in the collection at the Louvre—sort of like this deep secret, like ‘you also do this?’”
Lowe draws energy by collaborating with other creatives and seems to sweep up those who are willing in her wake. “Kristen has an infectious enthusiasm for the work she does,” Quednau says. “You’re around her for a little bit and suddenly you’re on board with whatever she’s doing.”
Holly Swift, one of the painters featured in Painting the Place Between, introduced Lowe to Brian Forrest, who became a co-producer of Drawing Hope.
Her film smoothly blends two different perspectives: that of a filmmaker and that of an artist. “She brings an artistic eye to a medium that can sometimes get very right-brained,” Forrest says. “Her work obeys the basic principles of documentary but has a style and feel that make it unique. She captures personalities of the artists in a way that you wouldn’t see in a typical documentary about fine arts.”
Wayne Roosa, fellow artist and art department chair at Bethel University, says that Lowe’s film “hit a nice balance of letting people see the artist’s working process. We hear [the artists] talk about all the nuts-and-bolts details that artists have to worry about. Then she pans out to consider big ideas, like where humans find meaning in creative work.”
Quednau compares Lowe to movie characters who say “I have this dream and I will make it happen,” and they do. “You think she’s crazy and then she’s moved it yet one step further. I have no idea how she pulled off this enormous project only on personal funding and energy,” he says. Perhaps it’s because “she treats every little stumbling block as another opportunity.”
A short list of possible favorite films: Being There, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Stardust Memories, JKF and The Elephant Man.
Catch Her If You Can