Roy Dowell seems to be forever attempting to reconcile physical actualities or their aftermaths with moments of apprehension or anticipation, agents or instrumentalities with their symbolic equivalents. Collage is his medium par excellence, but in recent years, his work has moved towards painting unaccompanied by (or simply paraphrasing) collage.
The springboard for the series of new and recent works at As Is may be the single sculpture exhibited here—an untitled (#1054) work of 2014. Resembling a blood-orange totem from ancient or colonial sub-Saharan Africa, it might be a diadem crowned figure; or the diadem itself, or better still, a kind of rattle or noisemaker.
A spirit of play dances with earthbound practicalities in these paintings. Their “devices”—wheels, propellers, rings that sort themselves into circuits, gears and diodes, compasses—are just that; but also toys. But the play is ceremonial—the elements abstracted into totem or heraldic device.
And there’s something more that crosses over into a more ambiguous domain. In several of the linen panels, the lower section is set off with a small round circle at its center. With the paintings’ emphasis on the directional, it might reference the panel of a birdhouse or dovecote, or something larger, however dwarfed in scale; e.g., our own blue orb—registered effectively by its absence; the earthbound contemplating their devices, symbols, cosmology. Or conceivably the reverse: the scope, peephole or camera.
Untitled #1123 (2019) might be the most heavily freighted with its lower section blue peephole, but dominated by its golden compass that is more like a transparency over a sun-dappled canopy of foliage. Set into a flame-red field with rays extending to its perimeter and criss-crossing ribbons of sky, “moons” float between compass points while bright red arrows push into the corners.
Only four other of the 17 paintings on linen are similarly composed. Others veer closer to the sculptural subject; e.g., Untitled #1117, with its striated gray background that looks like a piece of corrugated sheet metal. Dowell teases the materials here: vinyl color here rendering sequential red mazes of circumscribed rectangles, a soccer ball “wheel” cut out of red and blue hexagons that in turn supports a flipped tower of power conductors against a gorgeous orange trapezoid.
He’s teasing the viewer, too. The collaged aspect of some of the paintings is almost flippant. Consider the sienna-red and white dotted triangles set against a bisected sienna panel and a doodle-ish wash of desert colors in #1083 (2015). Yet the warning signs are there: a ‘propeller’ might read here as a radiation hazard sign. Dowell’s symbolism goes from the fanciful to the mechanical to the mathematical.
Less preoccupied with internal conversations or visual rhymes, these paintings invite us to see what this intersection of the instrumental and situational looks like reversed or upside down. Dowell seems to acknowledge that at the moment we’re pulled apart in all directions; but perhaps it’s still possible to find one’s true north.
Roy Dowell, “New and Recent Paintings (and a Sculpture),” April 28 – June 8, 2019, at As Is, 1133 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015. www.as-is.la