Los Angeles

Roy Dowell

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

In their compositional dynamics, Roy Dowell’s paintings and collages recall the work of the Futurists, yet the pieces in this sprawling exhibit transcend pastiche, utilizing a retinue of Modernist pictorial devices to create an art with a sensibility all its own.

Dowell’s work has long been distinguished by its idiosyncratic incorporation of abstracted figurative details within complicated patternings of color and line. But where his earlier paintings tended to be cautious, both in terms of scale and palette, here one finds an expansive and sophisticated melding of fragments from found magazines, packaging, and billboard images with a variety of motifs suggesting artistic styles of the past. Dowell augments this strategy with exuberant gestures and color that counter the danger of academicism inherent in his method.

The amoebic slather of green and red acrylic in the center of Untitled #467, 1990, plays off the crisp, neo-Cubist collaged billboard details over which it has been painted. Dowell’s cartoonish drawing of a gaseous exhalation from a small circle in the middle of the slather provides the work with a visual raspberry that blows the art-historical connotations away. In a similar fashion, the painted tassels that Dowell has applied to the pimentos in a pair of gigantic billboard-size cocktail olives in Untitled #491, 1991, invests them with a titillating resonance. The silhouetted key nearby could be read as a phallic emblem, but also as a tonic chord of transformation.

Though representational details leaven the historical associations, Dowell’s art remains historically engaged, especially at the level of compositional organization. The interpenetrating planes of green, red, blue, and yellow encircling the central vortex in Untitled #483, 1991, might have been taken from Carlo Carrà’s 1914 collage, Interventionist Demonstration. The drawing of ropes binding the four red protuberances ironically diverts our attention from the work’s swirling vortex without lessening its visual impact.

The gestural and chromatic exuberance of the panel paintings sometimes verges on the bombastic, but a group of smaller, framed collages on paper restates Dowell’s esthetic program with concentrated delicacy. These arrangements invite a closer look, rewarding viewers with delightfully prurient graphic effects, often involving details from images of various foodstuffs. One particularly effective coupling is nestled among the cascading planes of Untitled #486, 1991, where a quartet of soda crackers, clipped from an old chromolithograph, waits to be consumed, presumably along with the glistening red body of the unspecified crustacean rising from the bottom of the image. From this proximity, subtleties like the wear of the paper, the density of ink, and the precision of cut edges can be fully appreciated as evidences of the artist’s exquisite facility. The visual plenitude of Dowell’s art is the result of just such practical and conceptual care.

Buzz Spector