For 40 years, at least, artist Roy Dowell has been honing his appreciation for the broadest spectrum of visual art. He mines billboard and posters, folk art, fabrics, the shapes and textures of Arabic, African and Pre-Columbian cultures.
He’s become a modest collector and accumulated the historical knowledge of an amateur scholar. Predictably, fragments of these passions have migrated into his paintings, collages and sculptures over the years. This is wonderfully evident in the show Roy Dowell: New and Recent Paintings (and a sculpture) at As Is gallery in the West Adams district.
Using water-based vinyl paint on linen, in this show Dowell explores his usual range of motifs including quilts patterns or the decorative aspects of Colonial Spanish or Pennsylvania Dutch furniture. He combines them with geometric abstraction. And this is key.
Dowell integrates the language of mid-century modern art and design with his other heterogenous passions. Neither is a superior idiom. It is a lens for looking at multiple cultures, often simultaneously.
All the pictures in this show are untitled but a vertical panel from 2016 is covered in lines of miniscule connected circles. Over that background, Dowell painted diagonal narrow white lines over black, a fat white cross, a black diamond and then a translucent lemon square.
At the bottom of this complex yet organized composition is a rectangle of solid black with a small green circle at the center and a red border. The top and bottom of the painting are conversing with one another.
In another painting, that black rectangle with the green circle in the center anchors an ochre sunburst shape surrounded by a disc of white atop a background of red geometric shapes.
These aren’t huge paintings. The largest is four by six feet. But they contain countless references balanced in a way that reveal the depth and breadth of his sources without being pedantic or predictable.
Dowell, 68, originally from Northern California, got his graduate degree from Cal Arts in 1975, a time when ideas about painting were being dissected and reconsidered. That foundation has affected his art from the outset.
He combined collage with his paintings for many years. The recent works have a similar feeling of being constructed of disparate parts, appearing familiar but foreign in their new contexts. We are drawn in by that friendly feeling and then asked to enjoy a complicated discourse.
Recently retired from his position as founding chair of the Masters of Fine Arts program at Otis College of Art and Design — where he has influenced and aided countless students — there is in this show an efflorescene of the sort of deep creativity that it can be challenging to access when juggling the duties of college administration. As homage, Otis will host a solo show of his work in June.
The As-Is gallery is modest in size and location. It is the latest venture from Tom Jimmerson who has long supported the idea that even the most talented artists may be overlooked with the passage of time. He is committing this location to exhibiting old and new work by such artists, which is a really good idea. There is plenty of support for the young and emerging. What about the teachers and mentors who helped them find their way?
Dowell is just such a person but that is not the reason to see the show. The reason is the paintings, which are reward enough. It continues through June 8.