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For our first What’s on Your Wall? feature we visited the Golden Hill home of Ben Strauss-Malcolm, a local gallery director. He had, hanging above his computer, a 2007 painting by Kim MacConnel, a notable local artist.

So for the next installment of our series, I wanted to see what’s on MacConnel’s walls. Moreover, MacConnel is married to Jean Lowe, another artist whose piece we saw at Strauss-Malcolm’s house.

But when I emailed MacConnel last month to ask if I could come over, he said many of his artworks weren’t at his house; they were at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, getting ready for his career-spanning retrospective that opened last weekend.

Now the couple has restocked and we visited them yesterday. Their unconventional concrete-block house has one of the most open designs I’ve ever seen. There are no hallways between rooms and you have to go outside to get from the bedroom to the kitchen (here’s an LA Times story about it from 1995). Prominent San Diego architect Ted Smith designed the house. The living room is on the cover of a 2006 book called “Creating the Artful Home.”

Most of the art in the house was made by either MacConnel or Lowe.

“I’m reluctant to own most other people’s work because I really don’t take care of things very well,” he told me yesterday. “And this is a fairly harsh environment for the work to live in — things wear out, and the spiders and the silverfish.”

If you’ve seen MacConnel’s paintings in a museum with white walls, you’re not getting the full picture of the way he lives with his art. MacConnel, who started studying at UCSD in the late 1960s, fits in a style and school of modern art called “Pattern and Decoration.” He and his contemporaries rebelled against the starkness, conceptualism, clean lines and blacks and whites of much of modern minimalist art.

So he went for it with color and expressive works that capture vitality from other cultures. His wife, Lowe, makes a lot of her art about the intersection of beauty and decoration with consumer culture.

So, as you can imagine, their house is full of optical tricks, statements about consumerism and influences from their travels.

And color.

Here’s the view, for example, from the kitchen looking into the living room:


Another local artist, Alida Cervantes, painted this portrait of Lowe that hangs in the living room. MacConnel painted the couch.

Lowe makes sculptures of familiar objects, sometimes with satirical phrases embedded in them. The painted coffee table holds a cup and book she sculpted.

Here’s a photographic piece MacConnel made after a trip to Shanghai in 1997, inscribed with Chinese and English saying “If you study this work, you will benefit.”

These are curtains MacConnel made in 1978 for a client in Europe who didn’t ever pick them up. He was looking for fabric to paint on and found four of these, rolled up.

MacConnel got these blown glass figurines in the early 1970s from a factory in Tijuana. “I just really like them,” he says. “I think they’re terrific.”

Lots of things to describe in the photo of the living room below. The stuffed tire is by local artist Brian Dick; he made a ton of them for an exhibit at the Children’s Museum a few years ago. MacConnel made the rug in 1994 from latch-hook craft projects he found abandoned at thrift stores. The white armoire in the corner is the TV cabinet made from the cardboard box the TV came in.

The bed legs were made in Mexico; Lowe painted the armoires to look like wood grain.

Here are MacConnel, Lowe and their dog, Ceci, in front of Lowe’s studio:

What’s on your wall? Your neighbor’s? Your dentist’s? Suggest a future installment by leaving a comment or dropping an e-mail to the address below.

Text by Kelly Bennett, photographs by Sam Hodgson. Please contact them directly at and Follow them on Twitter: @kellyrbennett and @samuelhodgson.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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