Lizzie Rowe


This site displays a selection of my work across my artistic career – from the early 1980s to the present day. For the past three decades my paintings and drawings have dealt with the issues of gender, identity and sexuality on a personal level. As a transgendered woman, I see no separation between my life and my work as an artist, the two are irrevocably linked. My journey from married heterosexual man to complete woman is a process which has been charted very publicly through my work. Here we see this journey.

Three solo exhibitions in recent years have allowed me the opportunity to expand my existing preoccupations with gender identity and I have started to explore the latent personality or presence of inanimate still life objects. The Unironed Dress and other Stories, 2004, saw the beginnings of these explorations. Starting from observational studies of a dress waiting to be ironed the drawings evolved into emblematic statements with a life of their own. The dress has transmuted from a passive inanimate object into an iconic and sometimes threatening personality in its own right. The latent character of the dress has transformed to entice, seduce and threaten the potential wearer/viewer. The series follows the story of the dress, from its role as a simple inanimate object to its function on the figure who robes and disrobes. In this body of work the dress has developed not only an identity but also a sexuality/femininity of its own. The image is an inorganic construct with none of the expected frivolity associated with feminine clothing – it has become a presence or personality to be reckoned with.

In 2006, Feathers Falling from Angels, encompassed the domestic, feminine minutiae for which I am best known and introduced elements of an increasingly cerebral and spiritual nature. The intricately observed drawings and paintings of women’s clothing remain central devices but in the new work they became imbued with a quasi-religious significance. Titles such as Numinous (in the presence of the divine) and Feathers Falling from Angels indicated my interest in iconic imagery transmuting towards objects with a spiritual presence.

Light, always a crucial formal device in my work, here begins to suggest an internal source – daylight is amalgamated with more private, subjective illumination – the skirts and dresses are imbued with glowing auras, taking them beyond mundane objects. The sense of implied presence has progressed from the early self-portraits – explorations of my gender dysphoric fantasies of the 1980s - through my more mature expression of the femininity of inanimate objects, to now investigating implications of angelic manifestation.

I have always counted amongst my influences Rembrandt and Goya – in their handling of warm and cool light and atmospheric chiaroscuro – but more recently I have recognised the lessons of Beardsley, Rackham and Mervyn Peake, all best known for their illustrative graphic work. The immaculately observed differences between velvet and chiffon, rough cotton and sparkling sequins reinforce my love affair with the tactility of fabric, the intricate patterns and grid-like formations of appliquéd ribbons lend pre-existing compositional frameworks the power of movement and life.

More recently, my new body of work sees me experimenting with three distinct themes. The Book of Dresses, 2008, is a collection of dresses remembered and imagined. The drawings are designed to hang as one installation, like specimens catalogued or family photographs. Each one is unique but they are all part of the same story. I have also been investigating the possibilities of small scale still life – the detritus of the dressing table transformed into a frozen glimpse into another’s life. These paintings are designed to be quiet – they allow for the vicarious contemplation we would otherwise not feel comfortable with, somehow, the medium and intricate detail validates our voyeurism. The last set of brand new work – the start of a series I hope – is The Green Men. These Pagan figures adorn churches and alehouses across the world, here, their silent communion hints at ancient themes, latent and ubiquitous symbols of the earth.



artist’s Statement

There isn't a painter anywhere around quite like Lizzie Rowe. Combining the lush paintwork and moody atmospheric tonalities of Rembrandt with the sinuous graphic decadence of Beardsley, Rowe has created a body of work of rare personal resonance. Rowe doesn't make easy political references to sexual and gender role playing; this is an artist who has painted first his, now her way out of social stereotypes and achieved, through immense creative and personal struggle, the liberation of being a self created individual. So here Rowe's long-time fascination with dresses and lace, her domestic reveries of ritualised laundering and ironing, are transformed with an aura of otherworldly melancholy and yearning.
Robert Clark

The Guardian