Continuing with our artist profiles of artists both living and working in the Hamptons, our next artist is Michael McDowell, who lives in East Hampton
- Michael McDowell was born in Santa Barbara, California. He attended local schools, and when in college in Santa Cruz, he decided to change his major from mathematics to art - "a giant change in linear thinking" McDowell says "although I have no regrets about my choice, my father was a medical doctor and was not the least bit happy about it. Although after a time he became extremely supportive." McDowell held fast and attended art school at San Miguel de Allende in Mexico during the 1960s to "improve my portfolio for entrance into Chouinard (now CalArts or California Institute of the Arts).
Artist Michael McDowell with his work "Visions" 2009, 48 x 60, oil on canvas.
Photo by Eileen Casey
McDowell completed his studies at CalArts in the late 1960s and showed in numerous galleries in California, and still maintains a studio in Santa Ynez. He relocated to New York City
during the late 1970s, and declared "New York is the center of the universe and I wanted to be there."
Having lived and worked as an artist in Manhattan, McDowell met his future wife, Judy Lynn McDowell, who introduced him to The Hamptons where McDowell immediately felt "at home." McDowell acknowledges his wife by stating "Judy was and is instrumental in supporting my artistic endeavors." They have one daughter, Jennifer, who is now living and working in Manhattan, which makes the McDowells "very happy that she has the opportunity to be in a city that we both love."
McDowell is very involved in local artists organizations in The Hamptons, and has been a gracious contributor of art to many local charitable events.
He further declared that "I love that The Hamptons is an artistic community, and offers easy access to New York City, which has some of the best museums in the world. I feel lucky that The Hamptons is one of the most beautiful locations I have ever been to and I am fortunate enough to live and work here. I have found the community of artists here to always be supportive and interested in the well-being of fellow artists."
When did you start making art and what medium(s) do you consider to be your roots in art?
"Midsummer Night's Dream" 2009, 48 x 60, oil on canvas.
I started making art in high school, and I started painting (in oil) in high school as well - this was always my preferred medium. After going to museums and looking at art in my youth, I decided that is what I wanted to do and I felt that I was capable of using that artistic language to reveal myself and my emotions. I was immediately drawn to the Venetian period and the evident masterful use of oils these artists showed. The idea of creating a metaphor
and simultaneously making a physical act was both appealing and necessary in painting for me.
What is it about the Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art here as opposed to some place else?
"Survival" 2007, 48 x 60, oil on canvas.
As mentioned, my wife, Judy, had a home in The Hamptons when we met in New York. Coming out here with her allowed me the opportunity to discover a whole new area of the east coast that I was not familiar with having relocated from California.
The differences in the 'coasts' made me realize that I had found a geographic area that I felt immediately drawn to both as an artist, husband, and eventually as a parent. The Hamptons offered a less hectic daily environment which allowed me to pursue my painting in an arena using the well-known famous 'Hamptons light.' I think the light is so incredible because the land, relatively small, is completely surrounded by water, thus The Hamptons - as part of an island - offers me incredible opportunities to diffuse and integrate that light in my work.
Also, I feel as an artist that I have found the area to be nurturing, supportive and the community is a place that has made me feel welcomed and at home.
How do you support yourself as an artist?
: With difficulty, however, I have been fortunate enough to sell work, including to a group of private collectors, as well as have commissions over these many years that has made it possible for me to not have to pursue a full-time profession elsewhere. The 'job' of being an artist is always, always challenging and time consuming. Although showing and promoting yourself always makes me self-conscious, I have had to overcome my uncomfortableness with that aspect of the art world in order to be able to show and hopefully sell my work.
Why live and work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?
The light, the community - my family and I are very happy where we are and we were lucky enough to be able to chose where we wanted to live. We have been living here for over 30 years - this is our home and I now think it would be very difficult to come here, especially economically. I think it would be hard to get started and establish roots now in this decade as opposed to 30 years ago.
What local environmental or historical aspects of the Hamptons do you relate to that may be reflected in your medium?
"Playground" 2009, 48 x 60, oil on canvas.
: You know for a brief time in my life I was a commercial fisherman and that experience left an indelible imprint on my consciousness about being not only aware of where you live but also of taking care of where you live. When I look around this landscape that has changed so much over the past 30 years I am grateful that I have had those years here to see those changes - even though sometimes they are not always good changes. Contextually speaking, it isn't always necessary for me to be in this particular place [The Hamptons] to do my painting, however, the ease of 'life' here does reflect itself in my work, even though I am not aware of it sometimes. The natural beauty of the area, the landscape, the light, the shadows and the textures are an unending source of inspiration.
What artists do you feel have influenced you and your work?
"Dream On" 2006, 24 x 30, oil on canvas.
I love the works of Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Titian, and Botticelli - these masters' use of lyricism and their compositions and the paint quality - glazing and brushstrokes all had a profound effect on my choice to be an oil painter. I learned principles for my work from Robert Overby, who was a friend and well-known artist in California who influenced my use of lines and form, and I have always respected the San Francisco Bay area modern painters, including Paul Wonner, William Brown, and Wayne Tibold for their loose figurative handling of paint - the gestural expressions. I have always loved the way Sargent captures the emotion of the moment as well.
What advice would you give an emerging artist?
To remember the purpose at hand and focus on that element. If you are only focused on results you are not going to be there 'in the moment' - you are looking for something else. I think of de Kooning who said "What you
do when you paint
, you take a brush full of paint
, get paint
on the picture, and you
What gives you an edge (if any)?
"Beach Lane" 2006, 24 X 30, oil on canvas
I paint every day and am diligent about painting every day. When you say 'edge' I think immediately of art as a competitive element, and it doesn't seem to be competitive in that way to me, but if I had to say - I'd say commitment to seeing this through. Commitment also relieves any anxiety of negotiating with other alternatives - so it's commitment. Also, I feel my drawing skills offer me a professional edge in that I'm good at it, been schooled at it and use it every day. When I was in art school drawing human form was not a priority, in fact, even though you had studios with models all day long available to you, very few students were actually drawing from the human form, and drawing is the one thing that I think can be taught and learned. I don't think you can teach painting. Painting is a technique that is developed over time. Color, composition and inspiration must lend itself to create an artist's statement. Drawing is like playing chords in music - you have to be educated with the fundamentals.
What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?
I am presently preparing for a one-man show at Ashawagh Hall
(Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton) entitled "Raptures" to be held Saturday, March 28 (from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.) and Sunday, March 29 (from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.). The show is being curated by artist Haim Mizrahi
. For additional information call 631-329-0055. I am also in the process of redoing my website which has been occupying a great deal of time.
• To view more of McDowell's work contact him directly at 631-875-3955.
Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.