Los Angeles

Roy Dowell

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Roy Dowell’s paintings and collages contain an abundance of odd visual elements that normally would never be caught dead together on the same picture plane, let alone in the same artist’s brain. But Dowell performs an amazing and astute feat of integration. His garish profusion of colors and shapes could easily be misread as kitsch, irony, or artistic commentary on notions xyz. But they’re not any of those things. The show, entitled “The Grand Order of Things” and consisting of 6 large paintings and 11 small collages, is very much alive and intelligent, and it presents a load of valuable difficulties.

Dowell sets up design problems and treats them as springboards for elaborate solutions. His style of painting is gestural, yet void of a brushy touch. Dowell employs batik like backgrounds that nudge their way to the fore alongside bizzaro color-field riffs, sand-covered squares, and zany biomorphic squiggles, globs, and bulges. Each painting miraculously resolves itself through a scrupulous intuitive logic. With their arrows, Arabic letters, architectural doo-dads, and primitive markings, the works sometimes look like glorious accidents. They have a modest folky presence; they’re direct, vulnerable, chaotic, yet ordered. To keep things under control Dowell always seems to include something in the picture that calms everything down—a sane little square, a humble coherent circle.

There is something optimistic about these pictures. The fact that Dowell can cram any shape, no matter how awkward or obtrusive, into his flat rectangular planes and give it a home is in some way a triumph. The array of shapes coexist like the parade of characters in a Fellini movie. They excuse themselves, whisper, belch, glower. The work revels in a kind of madness, domesticated and forever exotic.

Dowell’s small collages go a step further. They are far busier than the larger paintings, more refined and complex. They read like geometric perfections: nothing can be done to improve them. Here, too, the unlikeliest assortment of languages is cut up and set into a logical network of precision. Dowell’s microchoreography leads the eye through perceptual courses of pleasure that are at once charmed, comical, and insightful. As with Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novels, his pictures “write themselves.” By suggesting new routes through the picture-making void, Dowell generates articulate organic meaning from abstract metaphoric surfaces.

Benjamin Weissman