Artist Spotlight – John Dowell
Artist Spotlight – John Dowell
#ARTWISEUP by SAL McINTYRE
JUNE 27, 2018


John Dowell is an American printmaker, etcher, lithographer and painter whose work is best appreciated up close. Encouraging a meditative and liberating connection to the present moment, his detailed and delicate abstract forms are often inspired by, or even visual representations of, poetry, dance and music, in particular jazz. He has been influenced by abstract expressionists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and visionary jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor, and his works succeed in composing their own spontaneous improvisations that could be likened to music in their own right.

Born in Philadelphia, Dowell grew up in a housing project there and explored art with his brother. It is interesting to discover that as child, his first artistic inspiration came from copying the comics of the Lone Ranger, the fictional masked former Texas Ranger who fought outlaws in the American Old West with his Native American friend, Tonto. The character has been called an enduring icon of American culture. Although Dowell’s art is far from comic book in style, it seems his interest in iconic cultural figures remains a significant influencing force in his unique character of expression.

detail (L) and full (R) – John Dowell – Sequence, SIGNED stone lithograph 1980

This piece titled Sequence is a characteristic example of the assembled dynamic balance which Dowell strikes so well. Containing both large sweeping forms and condensed minutiae, the work leads one through it with varying speeds as though listening to a song. It makes a spirited impact all at once, conveying an array of emotional tones, and also begs for a slower meandering when focused in on delightful detail.

full (L) and detail (R) – John Dowell – Aloe Vera, SIGNED stone lithograph 1981

With Aloe Vera, the name suggests plant forms and nature, suddenly propelling you into an ethereal jungle-like space at least in concept, where abstract rendering serves to construct a more intangible analogy for what that might mean. There are elements of mystery and surprise, atmosphere and prowl.

detail (L) and full (R) – John Dowell – Percussion, SIGNED stone lithograph 1980

The carefully balanced arrangement in Percussion pursues traces of biorhythms, like perhaps a poetic heart rate monitor rendering. Some of his marks approach handwriting, or musical notation, not unlike the frenzied scrawl of an illuminated composer. Additionally, the subtle nearly imperceptible markings that make up the background gather like a cloud, with a clear space around the main event in the center — as though maybe through careful attention to observation and method, mental clarity is achieved.

"...his detailed and delicate abstract forms are often inspired by, or even visual representations of, poetry, dance and music, in particular jazz."
full (L) and detail (R) – John Dowell – Sun Dream, SIGNED stone lithograph 1980

And although sunshine is perhaps amongst the less palpable of subject matter, the very distinct and active forms in Sun Dream inject an element of the joyfully explosive material presence of this powerful force, one that is often best processed as dreamlike experience.

detail (L) and full (R) – John Dowell – Concentric, SIGNED stone lithograph 1980

Each of his works contains a smattering of marvelous vignettes, presenting new narratives with each revisit, while maintaining an overall motion that carries a persuasive message of transfiguring equilibrium. With Concentric, as with many others, the work compels us in, inviting a closer and more intimate listening, much like the experience of absorbing a Miles Davis soliloquy. All of these pieces are beautifully printed and signed stone lithographs, a selection of Dowell’s work from the early 1980s.

Artist spotlight