05 Apr Artist of the Month: Stefan Dowsing
Moving to Southern Spain had a transformational effect on my art. I became fascinated by the distant horizon line of the Mediterranean Sea, and found a new source of inspiration. I have become concerned with what I think of as a ‘poetic longing’ or nostalgia for places I may never have even known.
Reoccurring themes have emerged – stillness, light, space and gravity. My art has become a ‘slow’ art that attempts to transform the process of looking into a slower and more thoughtful one, demanding a fuller engagement from the viewer. People always talk about the ‘light’ when they move to places like this; Van Gogh for instance with his reaction to the vivid light of Arles, but sometimes my biggest inspiration has come from grey overcast days. If you look very carefully at a grey sky you will see a host of subtle colours that you wouldn’t normally expect to encounter. I am, on a daily basis, inspired by the horizontal bands of colour in the sky, often so close in luminosity, but wonderfully different in hue.
My art references landscape painting, minimalist art and surrealism, but is not actually any of these things. I’m more interested in nature’s modus operandi than it’s outward form. An intriguing aspect of my work as an artist has always been my difficult relationship with content. I have a habit of looking for simplicity in everything. After gradually eliminating all forms of recognisable content in my work I had to face the dilemma of what I could then actually put back into my paintings.
I remember when I was at college how I was particularly taken by the art of Minimalists such as Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin and intrigued by the very stripped down paintings of Agnes Martin. I was also fascinated by the way Mark Rothko’s art had come out of a distinctly American relationship with Surrealism. Though I appreciated Surrealism I had found it too excessive and chaotic for my taste. Living here and establishing a relationship with sea and sky and the overlooking mountains I began thinking that maybe all art is somehow rooted in landscape – it is where our memories exist, even in the dream world that fascinated Surrealists so much. The inspiration for my paintings increasingly began to come from observing the systems and operating parameters of the natural world. However, it has never been my intention to represent the elements of nature themselves, (trees, mountains, sea etc.), but rather to explore the mysterious processes at work in their formation.
When I paint I remain prepared to jettison all my intentions for a leap into the unknown. The thing that I look for in my art and something I feel is very important is the ability to make a painting seem alive. I saw a big exhibition of Marc Chagall’s paintings at the Tate Liverpool a few years ago and was struck by the amazingly lively quality of his paint surfaces, the way he used blue in particular was just phenomenal. Consciously or subconsciously I must have taken this experience home with me… More recently I have found inspiration in the photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto (another artist fascinated by the horizon) and also the magical paintings of John Lurie.
What turns will my art take next? Living here I find no shortage of inspiration. I have created a peaceful, quiet environment that gives me space to think. The horizon is a sort of metaphor for infinity and who knows where that will take me? Now! Where are my swimming shorts?