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Solo Show At Ashawagh Hall Spotlights Artist Michael McDowell

Originally Posted: March 30, 2009

Colin M. Graham

East Hampton - Continuing in the longstanding tradition of showing works of East End artists at Ashawagh Hall in Springs, this past weekend marked the opening of the exhibit "Raptures," a collection of paintings by artist and 30-plus-year East End resident Michael McDowell.

Artist Michael McDowell with his wife, Judy Lynn McDowell at the opening of his
solo show at Ashawagh Hall on Saturday night. Photos by Colin M. Graham

The exhibit, curated by fellow artist Haim Mizrahi, was titled "Raptures" as, according to Mizrahi, that's exactly what it represents. "I called the show 'Raptures' because Michael has been silent for too long," Mizrahi explained. "He would show a piece or two here or there but I wanted him to do a solo exhibit showing the vastness of his work; bringing it all together is what makes it a 'Rapture.'"

There is indeed a seeming vastness to McDowell's body of work. His pieces are diverse in both subject matter and style, ranging from plein air landscapes painted in oil and reminiscent of impressionistic artists in both brushstroke and color choice, particularly his landscape "Bridge Ln.," which evokes a dreamlike representation of women, children and animals that convey both surreal and epic qualities. In his painting "Survival," portraying a seagull and dog frozen in an eternal struggle, he depicts the grandiose realistic style characteristic of paintings of the Italian Renaissance.

"The actual act of painting comes very easily to me," McDowell said opening night. "The hard part for me is coming up with the context or the content of the painting, and I feel that makes my paintings very fragmented. I find that some work and others don't - that's just my way of working."

The second version of McDowell's painting "Raptures" that he repainted after seeing how the original was altered and fitted to fit on the invitation for the exhibit.

In discussing the ethereal and imaginative qualities of his work, McDowell confesses to not really seeing much of a difference between one of his landscapes and some of his more abstract creations. "There is no such thing as reality, everything that we see and experience is all just made up in your own mind; it's your own concept of reality. It's like how several people can all witness the same event, and when they're questioned about it later, say for a crime scene or accident, each person can have a very different recollection of what happened even though they all saw the same thing. So in my paintings I try to promote the integration of different things and bring them together in various contexts."

Two of the works, both titled "Raptures," reflect different perspectives on the same theme, which McDowell credited to being able to reconceptualize the reality of his own work when he saw the painting condensed and re-proportioned when it was put on the invitation for the exhibit - essentially forming a new take on a reality that he himself had created. "I repainted the original after I saw what was done with the invitation; I liked it almost better than the original so I redid it. It got me interested in doing more digital work now because it allows me to take a concept of mine and refine it or play with it further to come up with something new. It's kind of like working backwards in the sense that the process starts with a finished work and then becomes something totally new."

Curator of the exhibit Haim Mizrahi (left) with his wife Manuela and friends William Falkenburg and Linda Barone.

In both "Raptures" paintings, McDowell's California roots appear to have influenced the color palette and subject matter. Using warm tones and shadows, he diffuses the light on the face of a scantily clad woman in repose, creating a sense she is on a West Coast beach before a waning sun, either in early morning or late afternoon. The soft quality of the lines combined with the warm colors gives the image an almost vintage look, as if it was painted on a beach in California in the 1950s or 1960s, and combines it with the sexy and fantasy like aura often seen on the cover of a pulp novel.

Again, if the closest we can get to actual 'reality' is only going to be our internalized concept of it, then McDowell's paintings leave the door of perception wide open for plenty of personal interpretation, allowing one to draw something wholly different from his work than say the fellow standing next to you. In that light, McDowell's work not only reveals a glimpse into his own concept of reality, but it also allows the viewer to take that framework and attach a personal meaning, an effect many artists try to achieve but few do with such such apparent ease.

"Raptures" was on display at Ashawagh Hall in Springs from Saturday, March 28 through Sunday, March 29.


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