in michael we trust

The following is inspired by Michael Dowling’s allure of 1990’s iconic flicks, Fight Club and Romeo + Juliet (specifically, its soundtrack).

story // sasha strelitz
photography // joe friend

“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” Baz Luhrmann

Do one thing every day that scares you.

In fourth grade, he drew Garfield repetitively—400, 500 times—till that chubby, mischievous feline face was so second nature, he could draw it perfectly without looking at the cartoon.

The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

These days, it’s all about “challenging easiness of thought” by purposefully creating problems and making them work.

If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Sometimes there are oil paints, other times there are railroad ties; sometimes there are chicken skin-covered books hanging on wires, other times there’s gold leaf to create discomfort; sometimes there’s gesso, other times there are feathers moving through ink; sometimes there’s even an electronic stethoscope and an amplifier, but usually, there’s charcoal: charcoal smears in a certain way and its lines don’t erase, so the history of mistakes is maintained. No matter what the medium and regardless of the witty, quippy title, there’s always an implicit request to observe and interact with the art in a way outside the construct/constraints of language.

Michael Dowling has worked in art sales, the wine industry, the fashion industry, and he even sold copiers ever so briefly, but in 2013, emboldened by his previous art school experience in Florence, Italy, he made what he deems an easy transition into the art world. He is one of those rare people who is not exclusively right- or left-brained: from 9a-5p, you can find him in his studio creating, and otherwise, he is at home operating the logistical, mathematical side of his art business. Sometimes, he even teaches drawing—how “drawing is a function of seeing”—at the Art Students League and the Curtis Center. Aside from managing his bustling art business, he is rebuilding a house he owns, mountain biking, reading sci-fi pulp fiction, and, perhaps most importantly, fathering three kids: Lucie (14), Sylvie (11) and Fergus (6).

“Talk Show Host,” Radiohead

Floating upon the surface for the birds.

Crows once taught him how to fly, and there was once a Dumbo with a feather in his mouth. He feels alignment with animals: silverback gorillas, buffalos, horses, those crows and other birds too. Now it’s the bull: even though defying gravity’s not in its wheelhouse, the bull changes the power structure. The bull is symbolic of power—the birds, the birds.

Morning routine: coffee, oatmeal, tending to the kiddos, 2 eggs and toast, Earl Gray—I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready—

Standing—fluid motion; talking to himself—in his head, out loud, both, who knows?; making marks—erasing (which is a form of mark-making anyway). “We’re trapped inside the Renaissance, not in a bad way”: draw, paint over, scrape away—a tonal painting, but reductive—the classical image—working with traditions—I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

It’s the idealized self-portrait of an artist who feels like a boxer “after an ass-kicking,” who’s living the romantic ideal of someone who makes art and sells it successfully. Before, there’s anticipation; during, there’s blood, the skin is all jostled and what’s underneath aches.

“Making art feels like getting the shit kicked out of me, and I love it.”

“Local God,” Everclear

You do that, Romeo.

Michael’s art is a fusion of classical approaches born out of the Renaissance, aspects of the hypermodern and a theoretical framework. Michael’s art embraces messiness and discomfort and the unpredictability of a medium like bright pink spray paint. Sometimes a piece starts with the title, and other times, the title bubbles forth from the process—regardless, his titles are a part of the poetic moment that helps to create the story without giving away too much.

Be what you want to be.

~ On October 21st, 2019, Michael was creating in the live studio setting at the Dairy Block. He began with one complete piece and myriad blank canvases, which he populated by the show date in late November.

~ He will be collaborating with a former student, Annie Decamp, in Aspen, exploring the mentor-mentee relationship.

~ In a forthcoming television show, Devils, Michael’s art will be featured as the art of one of the main characters.

~ In 2020, Michael will work on two discrete collaborative projects with Jess Davis and Tina Anthony. Expect the show with Jess to be quietly political, as she works with leather, marionettes and images of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon, which Michael will riff on. The show with Tina will be a dueling show where their work will be in conflict with one another.

Look like you’re runnin’ in place.

Michael’s process strikes a balance between his obsessive nature—exemplified by the fact that he’s worked to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet daily for the past ten years—and gestures he makes towards embracing the unpredictable, the chaotic, the realm of discomfort.

His work thrives in the realm of discomfort because central to Michael’s praxis is fear of the unknown. He purposefully makes something messy and accepts the subsequent imperfections; for example, he uses erasure and sometimes even outright redaction, because “erasing is a form of mark-making. Creating a mark or a shift gives life that’s not starkly black and white.”

His approach to creating from the repository of his classical, technical Florentine education is to resist against notions of perfection by way of discomfort, the unpredictable, fear. Being scared—stepping outside of normal—is an essential element to his process, which takes him further from the system of language we are trapped in and more towards the visual.

He begins with a couple of marks that mean everything, not because of any logical explanation but that he feels the magic: “A couple marks, for some reason you love them and keep them.” He continues by looking and reacting—engaging in visual thinking. It’s a return to a childlike state where actions occur well outside of the system of logic. After all, how else can one break away from the natural image?