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Artist Mike Dowley

Mike Dowley lives and works in his native Northern Virginia. He has shown his art locally and nationally, including at Arlington Arts Center, Doris Mae, Art at Kings Oaks (PA), Blue Spiral (NC), Atlantic Gallery (NYC) and the Phillips Collection, Washington DC. His work has been selected for exhibition by William Bailey, Yale University, and Joan Young, Guggenheim Museum and Matthew Higgs, White Columns Art Registry. He was the recipient of a residency grant from Vermont Studio Center and from Art Week, Anina Porter, Fairfield Porter residency, Maine. He received his MFA in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design and his BA from Georgetown University. He is professor of painting and drawing at Northern Virginia Community College and a lecturer in Studio Art at Georgetown University.

These drawings are a series of journal/sketchbook drawings completed during COVID. During the pandemic, I've had trouble focusing on larger paintings, and have found it easier to make pastel drawings in an 11 x 15" sketchbook. I have treated the sketchbook as a daily journal of sorts, working from life/observation/photographs on some days and from imagination on others, depending on where I feel most attuned. I have always been interested in spaces – both real and imagined - and the way that I work is often about finding or recreating a certain space or atmosphere that I find or already know well. A sense of color, light and an ‘elsewhere’ quality are what lead me to work on a piece. All of these images represent places of comfort or nostalgia, looking back upon past times, but also being aware of the beauty of the spaces in their complexity.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the arts. I grew up in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. I didn’t really consider working in the arts until studying in college, when I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had a great mentor, John Morrell, a landscape painter here in D.C. who helped me a lot. After graduating and working for a few years in public relations and at the Smithsonian as an intern, I decided to get my MFA in painting. Since then, it’s been an adventure learning how to paint and survive as an artist.

What kind of work are you currently making? I have been focused mostly on drawings lately. Though I consider myself (at heart) a painter – as it’s my true love in what I like to look at – I’ve found drawing easier and quicker and, maybe more second nature to me as an artist. I’ve been drawing using pastels – mostly in large format sketchbooks. I simply draw each day, without knowing often what I’m going to work on from one day to the next. After getting a whole sketchbook filled, I tend to look back at the work and decide which I like the best and photograph them. If I sell them, I’ll cut them out, but I mostly like them collected together in the books. During Covid, the sketchbooks helped me process lots of ideas and not get too hung up on what I was doing. Some days I draw from my imagination, just visualizing something I am thinking about, like a certain place or landscape. Other days, when nothing is coming in my mind, I will draw from my surroundings, say, like the bathtub I included (A space I really enjoyed being in during the cold Covid months). Eventually, though, I’d like to get back to painting. Usually drawing leads me into doing more painting, so I’m looking forward to that happening. I started some paintings over the winter, and they need more layers on them, so when I feel satisfied with the drawings, I’ll move back to working on those. What is a day like in the studio for you? My days vary depending on my work/teaching schedule and the weather! Some days I like to work inside – either in my studio or at my kitchen table, depending on the lighting and mood. Some days I like to ‘get away’ from the other objects in the studio, so I’ll relocate to draw my surroundings. That can be inside in another room, in my car, drawing something I see – at a park, etc. or I’ll hike around in a park and try to find a secluded place to work for a while. I usually draw for 4-5 hours at a time. On a good day, 6-8. If I get a good drawing, I’m lucky! The rest of the time, I’ll spend submitting work to shows, cleaning/organizing/prepping canvases or panels or looking at artwork by others. I also write each day in a journal, which also helps keep my thoughts flowing.

What are you looking at right now or reading? I have been reading a lot about psychology and relationships lately, just to try to improve my knowledge about people and how we interact. I love learning about people and enjoy picking up even small skills. A good recent book is by Harriet Lerner, a psychologist, about making apologies. I also enjoy reading about the natural world, especially in the summer when I’m spending even more time looking at things up close in the woods. Dr. Qing Li’s ‘The Japanese Science of Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) is a nice refreshing and informative book about forests and their importance to our health. It’s fun to read that and then go for a long walk through a park! I also look at art all the time! I love to follow lots of artists on Instagram and am constantly looking back at artists whose work I enjoy. I’ll name a few classic artists whose work always inspires me: Edward Hopper, Van Gogh, Gwen John, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence.

Where can we find more of your work? Right now, I’m in an exhibit called “Inside Outside, Upside Down” at the Phillips Collection, here in D.C. I also have a piece appearing in Michigan Quarterly Review’s August MXQ Gender/Genre issue. I am an LGBTQ artist and am happy to appear in that issue alongside some great writers! Project V gallery recently selected a work for their show this past month, so you can find it on their website. I hope to have more out this fall.

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