Master Artist Series: John Dowell

Master Artist Series: John Dowell

John E. Dowell Jr. is an artist of many talents. Nationally recognized, Dowell has worked as an artist and master printmaker for over four decades. Over the course of his impressive artistic career, Dowell has explored a wide variety of mediums ranging from photography to ceramics to musical composition. Diverse in medium, his works reflect a continuity of formal concerns and a unified goal: to provide the viewer with a transportive, real experience that “leads them to themselves.”
"My goal has always been to provide a stimulus for the viewer to have a real experience that would lead them to themselves."
John Dowell was born in 1941 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a young boy growing up in the city, he explored art with his older brother, who copied Lone Ranger comic books. In second grade, Dowell volunteered to create the backdrop for the Christmas play, garnering him praise from his teacher. In sixth grade, he was introduced to the Philadelphia School Art League, marking the beginning of Dowell’s exploration of the arts, and ultimately setting him on the path to where he is now. In his teens, Dowell began taking classes at the Fleisher Art Memorial. By the time he entered high school, he had already cast a life-size sculpture and embarked on stone carving. In 1959, John Dowell began his studies at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. Dowell received his BFA in 1963, graduating with honors. Later that year, Dowell completed a two-month apprenticeship with Garo Antreasian at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, IN, in preparation for a fellowship at the Tamarind Lithographic Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. There he honed his collaborative lithographic printing technique, working for the likes of Josef Albers, Sam Frances, Nathan Oliveira, and Louise Nevelson. He earned an MFA in Printmaking and Drawing at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, in 1966. Dowell began his career as an educator in 1966 as an Instructor of Art, Printmaking and Drawing at Indian State University. In 1971, Dowell taught as an Associate Professor of Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Rome. He served as Chairman of the Printmaking Department from 1988-2003, and became a Professor Emeritus of Printmaking at the Tyler School of Art in 2013. John Dowell has been featured in over fifty solo exhibitions and is represented in the permanent collections of over seventy museums and public collections, notably including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France. From his early work in printmaking to his current photographic work, time, texture, and space have been guiding principles in Dowell’s creative process. In each work, he employs an intuitive sense of space to create structure for the viewer—using visual information, Dowell creates transportive and often confrontational works that form an immersive experience for the viewer, requiring their engagement and response.
The Thread of Music
Music has served as a connecting thread throughout John Dowell’s practice. As a graduate student at the University of Washington, Dowell became interested in the correspondence across artistic disciplines, particularly the relationship between visual arts, music, dance, and poetry. Finding that the structure of most creative expressions is similar, Dowell began his own multidisciplinary explorations which he described as “look at music,” and “listening to painting.”
The Thread of Music
"A Waltz for Three" by John Dowell, 1973. China ink on paper, 27.5 x 19.75 inches.
"Painted Scores"
Using works on paper, prints, and watercolors as musical scores, Dowell began collaborating with musicians to perform his “painted scores.” Music and dance continue to be relevant to John Dowell’s practice, evidenced in the immersive environments he creates—photography and sound came together in a 2012 performance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and again at the African American Museum in 2018—as well as in the evolution of his career.
"Painted Scores"
"Toy Chorus #3" by John Dowell, 1984. Watercolor on paper, 30 x 22 inches.
The White Paintings
Dowell’s White Paintings, completed in the 1980s and 90s, represent that evolution in influence. Inspired first by themes of movement and dancing, these works demonstrate Dowell’s endeavor to create structure and space on a 2-dimensional plane. As he progressed through the series, the paintings began to represent a greater sense of movement, passage, and direction—they came to relate to the movement from life to death, presenting a visual interpretation of that liminal space.
The White Paintings
"To Move From Infinity" by John Dowell, 1981. Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 58 inches.
Photographic Work
Focusing on large-scale photography, John Dowell’s current work captures both urban and agricultural environments, imbuing them with historic context and poetic content through digital processes of image manipulation. Dowell’s artistic creations feature layer upon layer of photographic images and hand-drawn elements, meticulously composed to convey themes of spirituality, time and memory, rhythm and movement, and the relationship between the land and the history of our nation.
Photographic Work
"The Spirits of AME Zion Church" by John Dowell, 2018. Archival print on canvas, 36 x 79 inches.