"Roy Dowell’s paintings are unapologetically modest. Candidly meditative and spiritual in nature, they make no grandiose claims about what sort of image they are or should be. They are mirrors for observation and engagement, as the viewer’s presence seems equally as necessary as the artist’s presence was for the work’s generation itself. This alchemical process is the lynchpin of the works’ construction: the artworks radiate a veneration for the act of painting itself. This feels like an active denial of the “heady theory” so often integral to the justification of unsubstantial and underwhelming painting. Dowell’s current exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery transforms the space into a sanctuary for the experiential. Inviting in their idiosyncrasies, they generate a warm respite against the seemingly endless turmoil we find ourselves in these past few years.
The relief and serendipity I felt when entering the gallery is marred by the contextual nepotism and inegalitarian academic foundation that has permeated the pseudo-figurative work currently suffocating the art market. There’s a rampant disconnect emerging in painting that is both expertly executed and uniquely vapid. Images so deeply underwhelming and precisely articulated are unfortunately ubiquitous. Nothing about such work’s conception necessitates paint in their execution, letting their validity rest on the skill of production with simultaneously little investment in it. This pervasive trend of quasi-surrealism gives no credit to the malleability and mysticism inherent to the qualities of paint or its ability to fluctuate between an image, a material, an index, and an object. Dowell’s works provide a long-awaited reprieve: a celebration for the joy of painting.
Dowell’s paintings don’t command that a long time be spent with the work, but cordially create an undeniable gravitational pull towards themselves. They are self-referential and solipsistic in a way that celebrates inimitable qualities distinctive to crafting a painting— specifically, painting’s ability to compound space, time, material and intention. They move beyond the referential with a sincere implementation of forms from signifiers but without the desire to depict or delineate their sources. Dowell skillfully transmutes the signifier into the signified, which holds steadfast as the prominent visual communicant.
Dowell employs a diaphanous painting ground in sequential layers to develop a multiplied space and utilize the limitless possibilities of a picture plane. Particularly, Untitled #1188 exemplifies this expansive space and emotional resonance through its slightly off-kilter nature. A crimson herringbone pattern pools into an almond-like shape. Semi-transparent blue forms tessellated across an additionally patterned background form arrow symbols in their negative spaces and create a multitude of space in their apertures. Dowell’s compositional oddities mesmerize as they oscillate between the delineated and the implied.
Standing in the midst of Dowell’s work, I am transported back to time spent with Agnes Martin’s paintings. Dowell’s paintings recall Martin’s intention to press against exactitude in pursuit of perfection, something which she acknowledges as contradictory, as perfection can only exist momentarily—during its pursuit. She methodically layers paint into pools on the surface, edging close to the graphite grid lines, generating a visual vibration as the plane of color approaches its newly defined perimeter. Dowell employs this sensibility in his layering process, upending the painting’s pictorial logic. If you spend time with Dowell’s work, you are rewarded with insight into how they are produced. The labor is inconsequential to their impact, something only a love for painting and object making can create. I commend any artist that can preface an intensely labored painting with an impactful visual rather than impressive labor. For Dowell the underpinning of this labor adorns the work with a commitment and seriousness that remains selfless.
Many external references can be made to the things that Dowell’s work reminds me of—but I hesitate to do so because this seems both insufficient and unnecessary, as the works feel ontological by nature. To elaborate would soothe a sycophantic desire to justify painting’s validity through the lens of representation or art history. Unique to Dowell, the labor involved adorns the work with a commitment and seriousness that remains selfless, unfettered by investment in “zombie figuration.” I am particularly drawn to Dowell’s work for this reason: there is an intelligence and integrity in the paintings that stands untethered to market influence. Relinquishing the specificity or importance of source imagery, the paintings’ framework is resigned to the experience of their forms and the vicarious pleasure of painting."