teaching martial artists how to overcome their fear or painting a picture
in under two minutes, Norman Lowell lives dangerously. MARK WOOD paid him
ago, there was a story doing the rounds of Norman Lowell's karate classes
about the way he taught his advanced students. According to the rumour,
Norman, an instructor in a special form of martial art known as Ch'uan
Shu, would make his aspiring black belts do their moves along the top
of a wall below which was a sheer drop of many feet.
One slip and....
The technique, apparently, was aimed at helping students overcome their
fears and learn how to be solidly 'rooted' to the ground. At the time I
didn't quite know whether to believe the story. And as a beginner barely
surviving my introduction to Karate, I was not sure if I wanted to.
Now, I do. Only an
extremist would take the risk - someone like Norman Lowell. An example
is his radical opinions. He is, in his own words, an unashamed racist.
He has just completed a 400-page book called Credo: A book for the very
few, in which he details his beliefs about the supremacy of the white race
and its "alarming" decline in numbers. "Whites are the creative minority
of humanity. Without us, everything would stop," he warned me. The Maltese,
he said are the only Europeans not to be talking in an Indo-European language.
"Maltese is actually a low form of Arabic, a slave language. It is like
a millstone around our necks. It is too limited for proper dialogue." Then
there is his art. Plenty of extremism there.
he began to guide me around his paintings, which seemed to occupy most
of the wall space of his Attard house, I tried to hide my initial sense
of alarm. "This one is called Maho mesmerises masochist," he said
pointing to the first of a long row of paintings that lined the stairs.
"It depicts the type of Spanish he-man who, you know...some females like
to be beaten." Five eau de cologne bottles stuck out of the painting, encircled
by a white line that represented woman. The background was black. It was
all very abstract. "This one is Zarathustra... It is about the man
who keeps gaining in strength into the future, the superman..."
We went up on
roof. A battered, old, drum stood at the far end. "This one is called
I stand...battered but still standing." Down we went into the garage.
The hood of an old Bedford van was lying on the floor, painted mostly red
with a circle of black at its centre. "That bulge," he said, "You
know, when John Travolta looked into the mirror in Saturday Night Fever..."
He made a vague motion over his crotch. "At the exhibition, the girls were
gaping at it." He was, of course, referring to his work of art. By now
he was showing me the works he had exhibited for three weekends last month
at Tattinger's, the Rabat night club: the painting called Glow -
of passion, he explained; Eruption!...of feeling and creativity;
dancer mesmerises female; Yes to nobility;
victory...and many others.
primeval music, frenzied dancing, flickering lights, and general atmosphere
of inebriation must have been the perfect setting for the paintings. Their
wild lines would have leapt out at the wide-eyed viewers from their 'canvas'
of discarded wood, metal, bamboo and the other materials he chose to paint
on for the occasion. The name of the exhibition? Dionysian Dithyrambs.
My perplexity must have been evident. But I was beginning to see the method
in what looked to me, an art-illiterate, like madness.
It was easy enough
to detect the powerful passion behind the works, an almost frightening
intensity of emotion that must have been rooted, in a pretty far-out philosophy
of life. Too far-out for me, though. As Norman talked, it was as if he
could barely keep the residue of some kind of creative frenzy from breaking
through. No wonder. "I paint in a state of delirium," he said, adding that
he used alcohol to help him get there.
a crest of creativity which lasts for no longer than two minutes, by which
time I have finished the painting. "It sometimes comes at a very unexpected
moment and it just takes over. I could be at a wedding, all dressed up,
and suddenly I tell my family and friends: 'I've got to rush'. I get to
my studio and barely have time to change my clothes. I have ruined dozens
of suits with paint like that.
"When I'm finished
I'm in a state of nervous exhaustion. I have done martial art for 28 years
and can do a 12-mile run. But the great outburst of energy still leaves
me exhausted." He does not use a brush. "That would come in between me
and the painting. I use anything - a half-lemon, a banana, the straw wrapping
of a bottle of Chianti...I have to be at one with my art." He pointed to
a spoon embedded in the paint of one of his works. The connections between
Norman the artist and Norman the martial artist were becoming clearer:
"at one with my art" is a very Eastern concept. There is a strong correlation,
he explained, between the type of martial art that he practices - the internal
kind, based on the merging of thought and action - and his style of painting.
is "Dionysian Action Painting", an ancient Greek art form based
around "intoxication, frenzy, ecstasy, barbaric instincts". On the opposite
end of the scale was Apollonion art, founded on imagination, balance and
His art and his
martial art had the same approach, he said: spontaneity and a direct tackling
of the problem, meeting the 'attacker' head on.
them both is the same unseen, inner tension, "just like a duck on the surface
of the water that looks serene but is paddling like crazy underneath".
"My martial art has given me strength and fearlessness. My paintings
are crude but there is no fear in them. They portray a vivid and violent
emotional feeling which has an immediate impact on the viewer. There is
no technique involved. I am painting feelings, not figures." Why show his
works at Tattinger's of all places, I ask. "A couple of years ago I used
to attend art exhibitions every week in stuffy, old museums, with the same
incestuous crowd. After opening day, no one ever turned up. "Abroad people
are bombarded with art, and that's how it should be. Art should be a living
thing. It should be put in offices, banks, bars, restaurants, night clubs...wherever
people live." The young people at Tattinger's enjoyed his work a lot, he
art as an expression of our innermost feelings and the way we perceive
the world around us. He also believes "art is decadence" and when it peaks,
civilisation then collapses. Inevitably, art declines because man is innately
nihilistic - he pushes himself until he self-destructs. True art is highly
dangerous. "An artist lives on the edge," he said.
Yes, I could see that, because so
do his poor students.