Roy Dowell at Various Small Fires

It’s always a pleasure to witness the work of an artist who, by sheer originality and talent, has developed an iconography and stylistic vocabulary that is at once familiar and completely foreign. Familiar and foreign are not, as many might think, contradictory. Roy Dowell understands the dissonant interdependence of classic modernism and inventive, rule bending play. This duet of old and new school art making is handsomely on exhibit at Various Small Fires gallery on Abbott Kinney in Venice through October 19th, 2013.

Roy Dowell, Untitled #M-15, 2013, Collage and acrylic on paper, 16 x 12 inches

Over the years Dowell has embraced collage as his primary medium. Four exquisite examples of his 16″ x 12″ panels are on display. They make your eyes careen around the surface plane. Pencil, paint, ink, cut paper, newsprint all amid layers that push and pull retinal pleasures. Figure/ground reversals abound. Each piece makes one draw near like arching to hear a stage whisper. And seen from afar, the totality fuses into a composition that defies either explanation or doubt. Their rightness is beyond reproach.


Roy Dowell, Untitled #1013, 2012, Collage and acrylic on paper, 16 x 12 inches

Two aspects worth noting: There is an utter lack of any formulae in the artist’s touch and composition in collage. He harnesses a bevy of techniques seemingly never repeating himself. The other is that there’s an unapologetic beauty to the works. It’s nice, even refreshing, to find an artist who believes that beauty is not a four letter word. The body of work is intellectually and compositionally rigorous while never being pandering nor bland.


Roy Dowell, Untitled #1048, 2013, Acrylic on linen, 52 x 26 inches

Dowell’s paintings take some of their cues from a layering paradigm of collage. The best bring translucent paint application and a willingness to leave exposed raw linen as indexes to this compositional layering. The bravado of cut or torn paper is replaced with taped edges and dry brush application. The graphic impact is retained. But having fallen hard for Dowell’s collages many years ago, this romance is in its infancy.


Roy Dowell, Untitled #1018, 2012, Cardboard, paper, and acrylic paint, 17 x 17 x 5 inches

And then there are the sculptures. Dowell’s totemic iconography best exemplifies the aforementioned familiar/foreign polarity. They are attractive in the same way the collages are. Indeed, a visit to the recently reinstalled oceanic galleries at LACMA had me having mini déjà vues. But when an artist engages totems, masks, shields and staffs, a narrative yearns to accompany the body of work. Not as explanation, per se, but as myth naturally underscores object. I thought of Cy Twombly’s sculptural oeuvre as counterpoint. Where Twombly’s sculptures are laced with archeological gravitas, Dowell’s sculptures lack a fictional ritual or oral history that might smooth their consumption.


Roy Dowell, Untitled #1031, 2013, Collage and acrylic on paper, 16 x 12 inches

Being a polymath is an impressive thing regardless. But one lesson that might be learned is that if an artist is indeed trilingual in a triumvirate of media, it might benefit to exhibit each result to the exclusion of the others.


-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, October 14th, 2013

also by Mario M. Muller

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