Critics’ Picks

Luke Dowd, Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 48".

Luke Dowd, Untitled, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 48".

Chicago

Luke Dowd

Tony Wight Gallery
845 West Washington Boulevard
April 17–May 30, 2009

Flat, graphic images of high-carat diamonds, negotiated with gestural applications of color and form, constitute Luke Dowd’s shrewd yet beguiling paintings. Arranged in elementary patterns, his faceted geometries depict simple fields of cut gemstones. Five works are hung in a tight rectangle in the gallery’s small back space; one painting is suspended on a freestanding plywood divider that encloses the sanctumlike den of canvases. Notions of value are obviously at the heart of Dowd’s compositions, but the mystique and rarity of his carbon-crystal subject matter is not the target of his critique. Using screenprinting to repeatedly lay down his images, Dowd seems most concerned with the inherent value of painting. Like contemporaries such as Kim Fisher and Wade Guyton, Dowd is critically plumbing the principles of abstract painting by brokering both rare and common signifiers, bringing printing techniques into play and problematizing expressionistic gestures.

Dowd’s group of paintings (all works Untitled, 2009) does an extraordinary job of highlighting the ridiculousness of value comparison while underscoring the glorious limitations of paint. His works satisfyingly demonstrate that paint is not capable of refracting light—only illustrating it, at best. For example, in a vertical painting comprising five princess-cut diamonds, each angled diagonally to the canvas’s edge, light is absorbed by the large qualities of dense paint; passages of orange, yellow, green, and blue cling to the facets of the diamonds as mere swaths of colored pigment. Here, as in several of the other works, a connection to the spatial concerns of constructivism trumps the mimetic qualities of realism. And to confound his investigations into the value of painting even further, Dowd elicits the perennially contentious issue of decoration with his wallpaper-like designs. Although opting for simple compositional designs over iconic image-making, Dowd’s screenprints, pulled with acrylic medium, give a secure nod to Warhol affectlessness and superficial desires, if not the elder artist’s “Gems” series explicitly. Taking on this line of critical investigation, Dowd’s canvases, surprisingly, do not roll over and die; instead, these reflexive paintings throb with the potential of their own limitations.