McDowell’s Vivid Visions

By Wendy Jacobson

Michael McDowell revels in the glories of
childhood in his painting “Playground.”

(03/31/2009)   Michael McDowell may be painting in the Hamptons, but his palette and mind seem elsewhere. Bodacious sirens swooning in all manner of come hither poses, dogs leaping through space, and idyllic watery landscapes. This is art for the straight guy, a visual tour through the fantasies of a regular Joe whose thoughts are miles away from the recession and the East End’s winter gray.

   The Southern California colors of David Hockney and the urbane juxtapositions of James Rosenquist came to mind as I cruised around Ashawagh Hall in Springs on Saturday night, where a chatty gathering of middle-aged fans blocked my view of Mr. McDowell’s vivid paintings.

   Mr. McDowell explored a wide range of subjects and styles in this show, called “Raptures” and curated by Haim Mizrahi, and used several iconic images repeatedly. Some of it feels a bit rushed. And some are a little paint-by-numbery. But works such as the landscape “Bridge Lane, Sagaponack,” surreal scenes such as “Times Square,” which depicts a man-size rabbit kneeling over a backpack, childhood in all its glory in “Space and Time,” and my personal favorite, “Visions,” a split canvas of a seductive woman whose face is striped with sunlight, as if filtered through Venetian blinds, on the top half and a gleeful airborne yellow Lab beneath, show more patience.


Michael McDowell’s “Visions”
displays the artist’s bold, almost
lurid, use of color.

Mr. McDowell is no Johnny-come-lately hobby artist. He paints with the confidence of a man who owns his craft via a classical art education and 40 years of experience.

   Mr. McDowell, who lives in East Hampton, was born and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif. He studied art in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico in the 1960s and went on to study at the California Institute of the Arts. The artist migrated to the East Coast in the 1970s after travels in Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, and Hawaii. He has shown at several South Fork galleries and at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

   His animals and people are well proportioned, the landscapes flawless, and he draws better faces, at least of beautiful young women, than most artists could ever hope to.

   He is adept at layering multiple perspectives on a single canvas. The colors are bold, lurid almost, and he is not afraid to load up his brush with thick gobs of paint and swipe them onto the canvas.

   There is a reward for standing very close to the more impressionistic pieces to see what genuine talent and technique can accomplish.

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