The surfaces of Roy Dowell’s paintings are easy to get lost in. Two things account for that: the paint Dowell uses and what he does with it.
The L.A. artist paints with vinyl emulsion, which dries to a matte finish whose colors are dense, saturated and rich — while also ethereal, powdery and translucent. The more closely you look at the 18 works in “Roy Dowell: New and Recent Paintings (and a Sculpture)” at as-is.la gallery, the less certain you are about what you’re seeing. Seemingly flat expanses of solid color disintegrate and disperse, as if adrift on gentle winds.
And Dowell cultivates that elusiveness, overlapping variously translucent layers of paint in a kaleidoscopic array of patterns to create even more space in his untitled paintings on linen.
Sometimes, he paints thousands of tiny dots to form screen-like sections that let you see things while seeing through them. At other times, he paints over previous sections, leaving only their textures visible, like ghostly memories or buried histories. At still others, he paints the silhouettes of gears, pendants, goblets and other objects, not to give them volume and substance but to turn them into windows that open onto other spaces, other worlds, other realities.
There’s so much going on — and going off — in Dowell’s quietly electrifying paintings that it takes some time before you notice that just about everything in them is a circle, a triangle or a rectangle. Those shapes are the building blocks of geometric abstraction, an early 20th-century style of painting that was radical, utopian and short-lived. Its roots go back to Cézanne, who believed that cylinders, spheres and cones were the only shapes painters needed to make images that captured the majesty of nature.
Dowell gets to nature by way of culture. His works are inspired by textiles — their elaborately patterned fabrics and the stylized symbols printed on them taking powerful form in his casually handled images. Floral elements figure prominently, as do starbursts, pinwheels and checkerboards.
Rather than arranging his compositions with mathematical precision, Dowell eyeballs the general layout and carries on by hand, letting the inconsistencies build, welcoming happenstance and never worrying much about consistency or symmetry. His off-balanced arrangements are abuzz with the liveliness of handcrafted artifacts, homemade things comfortable in their own skin.
Dowell’s compositions are matched by the seemingly worn surfaces of his works. More folk than Pop, his paintings look as if they’ve been around for ages, weathering inhospitable circumstances, fading in blistering sunshine and hanging in there through cold winter storms and seasonal downpours.
His paintings are made for homes and meant to be lived with (five even depict a cabinet or table drawer). They come from a place both cosmopolitan and welcoming: the heart and mind of an artist for whom the smallest of gestures are important — and generosity is not to be messed with.
as-is.la, 1133 Venice Blvd., L.A. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through June 8. (213) 610-4110, www.as-is.la