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Linda Lowery’s Screaming Newborns

Raw, encaustic and charcoal, by Linda Lowery. Winner of the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award for Best in Show.
Raw, encaustic and charcoal, by Linda Lowery. Winner of the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award for Best in Show.

We like to say the best artwork “speaks to us” — and sometimes, it screams.

That’s certainly the case with this painting by Linda LoweryRaw is part of a series of paintings of newborns doing their best Edvard Munch, and it won this month’s Best in Show award in the September Open Exhibit.

When we last spoke with the artist, back in 2014, she was starting to concentrate on this newborns series. We took this fresh opportunity to ask her more about it:

How did you get started with your paintings of newborns? What keeps this series fresh for you, and how has it progressed?
Linda Lowery: I have a photograph of my son that was taken when he was only a few hours old. He was a big baby and, even though it was a short labor, his face clearly showed the physical duress he had been through. I was struck by the pain of birth for the infant, which doesn’t get mentioned very often, and I wanted to express that in a painting. My painting of my son was not successful. I think I was too close to the subject. But since then, I have tried to capture the shock of being born by painting the faces of other infants.

Raw (detail) by Linda Lowery
Raw (detail) by Linda Lowery

I am fascinated by infants. This, and the variety of expressions they make, keep this subject relevant for me. Recently, I have been painting the whole figure of the infant, my dancing baby series, and I have also been exploring another medium — encaustics.

Why do you paint screaming infants and not peaceful ones?
Peaceful babies tend to look cute (at least to me). I am not into cute. I want my paintings to have a strong emotional content, and I don’t think that comes with cute. Not that I don’t occasionally paint or draw a peaceful baby. They are just not my focus.

Does this series have a name?
I call my series of crying babies painted in oil “Screaming Babies.” I don’t really have a name for the encaustics. I usually just call them “wax babies.”

Two Step by Linda Lowery, from her dancing babies series.
Two Step by Linda Lowery, from her dancing babies series, was in the April 2016 “Orbit” exhibit at The Art League.

Is encaustic a new medium for you? How does this painting differ from the oil paintings in this series?
I have been working in encaustic for a couple of years. I was looking for a way to more closely capture the translucent character of a newborn’s skin. I was hoping for an encaustic face, contrasted with the rest of the painting done in oil.

“Peaceful babies tend to look cute. … I am not into cute.”

So far I haven’t found a good way to do that. Heating oil paint is not healthy, and wax is likely to pop off the oil.

The painting in the show shows the result of my experimentation with transferring a charcoal drawing to the wax. I have been happy with the result. I plan to continue to experiment to see what other effects I can achieve with this medium.

Some of Linda Lowery's "Screaming Babies" at Artomatic 2015.
Some of Linda Lowery’s “Screaming Babies” at Artomatic 2015.

What’s your creative process for this series — are these based on photographs?
My baby paintings are all based on photographs. It is hard to get a crying infant to hold still and pose. (And harder still to gain access to a lot of newborns.)

I use family photos as well as pictures I find on the internet.

What’s your goal with this series?
I hope that viewers will be able to get more in touch with their own strong emotions by empathizing with the babies I paint. And then, perhaps, they will be able to better relate to the people around them. Not world peace exactly, but maybe a little inch forward.

For myself, I am waiting for this series to lead me into my next exploration in painting.

The September Open Exhibit is on view through Monday, October 3.

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