Born in rural Alabama, Rick Lowe is a distinguished artist whose remarkable achievements in the art world are mirrored by his championship of people and communities through social practice-based art projects, as evidenced, in particular, through Houston’s noteworthy Project Row Houses. Co-founded in 1993 by Lowe, Project Row Houses is an arts and cultural community located in Houston’s significant, historical Third Ward – one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. Much of Lowe’s interest and adept skill with collaboration comes from his family upbringing, where he was surrounded by a large family of four brothers and seven sisters. This sense of familial community is closely mirrored in many of his projects that focus on building and nurturing relationships. 

Lowe, who attended Columbus College, Columbus, Georgia (1979-82) and Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas (1990-92) is recognized for his community engagement projects and philosophical approach of “social sculpture” that uses creativity as a catalyst for change and empowerment of people in economic, social and political realms. Lowe is also known for his visual artistic repertoire that includes abstract works on paper and paintings often depicting ariel views of domino games. He became fascinated by the shapes and patterns made by the game, especially seen when played with black dominoes on a white table. The artist eventually started taking photographs of the games, documenting the movements and paths created that resemble, in many ways, the maps made by urban planners of cities and interconnected neighborhood communities. Lowe traces the shapes after his games, eventually layering them one on top of the other – the end result creating a multilayered, abstract composition. A longtime lover of the game, Lowe saw dominoes as an everyday activity and familiar way to connect, interact and engage with the residential community surrounding Project Row Houses. 

“The paintings and drawings I make are deeply rooted in the experience of what I call “domino culture.” While dominoes is a board game like many other board games played around the world, I find that dominoes, in particular, generates a kind of culture in communities where it is played,” states Lowe. “It has the contemplative element of chess, the rapid maneuvering of checkers, but unlike most board games, dominoes often times are slammed to the table with great force highlighting the physicality of the game. For me, the culture is informed by the sounds of the dominoes clacking on the table (in places where dominoes has generated a culture, it’s not a silent game), the boisterous bluffing to gain advantage, and most important to me, the beautiful shapes that form as the dominoes are laid out. I feel fortunate to have been a student of many great thinkers who may be locked out of traditional academic institutions. These thinkers have keen eyes, ears, and minds to what is happening in many areas of life that range from the social, political, to the economic.” 

Lowe’s artistic repertoire closely parallels his social sculpture and community practice through the physical act of engaging, whether it be through a domino game or community engagement, with those around you. According to Lowe, “The domino drawings offered such an opportunity both in terms of the opportunity to sit and work in a contemplative environment of the studio, and in terms of thinking about the issues of equity and urban planning in a more conceptual way. Within the social and economic context, planners, architects, social scientists, and others all work with mapping as a way to guiding knowledge production. The map-like appearance of the domino drawings offered a way for me to think about the work I was doing in the abstract.” 

Lowe’s work in Houston has expanded over the years in a more global sense, where he has played monumental roles as a guest artist in community projects throughout the United States and abroad, including the following: developed the Watts House Project in Los Angeles, California (1996); collaboration with arts consultant Jessica Cusick on the Arts Plan for Rem Koolhaus designed Seattle Public Library (2001-2002); collaboration with British architect, David Adjaye, on a project for the Seattle Art Museum’s new Olympic Sculpture Park (2005); organized Transforma Projects in New Orleans – a collaborative effort to creatively engage artists within the city post Katrina (2006); developed “Small Business/Big Change” for the Anyang Public Art Program, Anyang, South Korea (2010); and Trans.lation: Vickory Meadow for the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas (2013). Most recent projects include his Victoria Square Project in Athens, Greece, a collaboration with Maria Papadimitriou. Ongoing since 2016, the Victoria Square Project is a social sculpture that strives to empower the local community through creative experiences. Through building artistic spaces of belonging and refuge for locals and immigrants alike, this project gives new life and a sense of familial space to a somewhat polarized and forgotten community, stricken by grief and displacement in the recent refugee crisis. 

Lowe, who is currently a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at the University of Houston, has received numerous accolades and awards throughout his career, but was recently honored with an appointment by former President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Arts (2013), followed by his acknowledgement as a MacArthur Fellow (2014). Earlier in his career, Lowe and Project Row Houses received a silver medal by the Rudy Bruner Awards in Urban Excellence (1997). In 1998, he joined the Skowhegan School of Art faculty in Skowhegan, Maine, later serving as the Governor of their School of Painting and Sculpture and as the recipient of the 2005 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Governors Award. Lowe was the year 2000 recipient of the American Institute of Architecture Keystone Award. Additionally, he served as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University (September 2001 – June 2002); an Osher Fellow at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California (2005-2006); an Innovator Fellow with the Japan Society (2007); he received the Creative Time Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2010); and was recognized as a Mel King Fellow at MIT (2014). In 2015, Lowe was acknowledged as an Auburn University Breeden Scholar, and received the University of Houston’s President’s Medallion Award, along with honorary doctorate degrees from the Maryland Institute College of Art and Otis College of Art. In 2016, Lowe joined the University of Houston as Professor of Art, and served as the Stanford University Haas Center Distinguished Visitor. He has also served as a board member for the prestigious Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. In addition to his work with Project Row Houses and the University of Houston, Lowe has served on numerous Houston community boards and organizations including: SHAPE Community Center; the Municipal Arts Commission; board member of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau; and board member for the internationally recognized Menil Foundation. 

Lowe has exhibited in numerous institutions worldwide, including exhibitions at the following: the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas; Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, California; Neuberger Museum, Purchase, New York; Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, Texas; Glassell School of Art, Houston, Texas; the Kumamoto State Museum, Kumamoto, Japan; and the Zora Neale Hurston Museum, Eatonville, Florida, among others.