Q + A

the voice of Michael Dowling

A work by Michael Dowling is undeniable. By carefully harmonizing the realism of the Renaissance with the raw emphasis on what he refers to as “the mark,” Dowling intrigues the senses in layers of dreamlike visions. Viewers can experience one of his most recent originals at milehimodern’s new Boulder location at 2015 Pearl Street. We sat down with the artist to discuss his art style, finding balance and how he wouldn’t change a thing.

How did you find your calling in art? What would you tell young Michael — the version of you who picked up the charcoal for the first time — if you could go back in time?

I honestly don’t know how I found my calling in art, but I found my best voice and communication through the careful medium of realistic drawing. I loved being able to convey thoughtfulness and emotion through a picture. I didn’t start painting until I was 25 — and although I used to wonder if I would be further into my career or more successful if I started earlier, I really love where I am right now. I can’t imagine more interesting struggles and difficulties. That’s why I wouldn’t say a thing to young Michael.

How has your art style transformed since you began creating? Why or how has it moved in that direction?

Since the beginning of making art, I was interested in the timeless, historical and visual look of the Renaissance, so I started with that intensely from early on. There is still a presence of that in my work, but now I take it on in a different way. The resulting look is realism, narrative — but I let the works be much choppier and more about the mark.

The mark is like a voice: everyone has one, but some are stronger than others. The mark is very defined in my work; it’s something that speaks to my thoughts, my hopes…whatever I am feeling, my mark conveys it. 

Art is just one part of what you do — the business aspect is its own full-time job. As a business owner, how do you maintain work/life balance?

I don’t maintain a work/life balance very well because I work a lot; I’m constantly “at” things. The business itself can be daunting with following up, refilling supplies, running a gallery, curating shows and being on the board for a nonprofit. The exception is when I have my kids. I force myself to create a work/life balance when they are around me because I want to be present for them.

Previously, you mentioned that your process is to “resist against notions of perfection by way of discomfort, the unpredictable, fear.” Does that hold true today? If so, how have current events shaped your recent work?

It still holds true. Art is still my avenue for emotion. My work is subtle about it, though. When I think about the war that’s bubbling up and what’s happening in the world, I wonder: how do I take that on?

Near the start of the shutdowns in 2020, I started working on this project called isolation collaboration where I created a portrait from inside my gallery while my subject stood outside. The limitation of being on each side of the glass was an interesting way to take on what was happening in the world — how it was affecting art.

“More important than having art in your home is having art in your life.”

To what or to whom do you attribute a part of your success? How has it/have they helped you become the artist you are today? 

My list of support systems is long, and I can’t mention everybody, but I will mention my mom, dad, brother, sister, ex-wife, my teachers — including Amy Metier and Rosenclair — and my kids.

They’ve supported me in all ways – financially, emotionally and just kind of being there. I even attribute my success to the antagonists. The people who told me I couldn’t be successful at this gave me a challenge, and I liked it.

My kids have contributed to my success in a different way. They made me look at how I was supposed to move forward in the world. When my kids start asking me who I am, I get to say that I am an artist. Not many people can say that. It would’ve broken my heart to tell them that I gave up my dreams for them. Instead of choosing between the two, I chose both, and it meant that I had to be more organized and intentional.

What role does art play in your home? Describe the importance of art in the home.

I have a pretty minimal house. I don’t have a lot of art on the walls or furniture, but in that way, it’s a bit of an oasis because I’m around so much art outside of the home. The things in my home are sentimental, and the art pieces I do have are fairly circulatory and move around all the time.

More important than having art in your home is having art in your life. Art changes how you take on seeing and thinking. When a good piece of art is in front of you, it changes your thoughts.

As an artist, inspiration and creative spark can be either fleeting or saturated in daily life. Where do you find a sense of calm?

I always have a calm. It’s almost like it’s right next to me all the time. As soon as I need to start painting, I step to the right and it’s always right there with me. Everybody talks about how artists need to find inspiration and find the muse, while the ones that are making art just get to work. 

Do you have any upcoming shows or projects you would like to promote?

The best place to find my upcoming shows or get more information on my current projects is my Instagram, @michaeldowlingstudio. Below are some of my highlighted endeavors.

True West focuses on giving a voice to artists that are making work outside of what we typically see as new west. We usually schedule this show around the same time as the National Western Stock Show and we are looking to expand to Aspen and Trinidad.

The 360 Project is a creative venture designed for artists to rethink the cadence in which they make money. Artists must pay money out in a way that’s quite different from how we generate income, the latter being non-cyclical. I wanted to reverse engineer that process, so I started asking people to sign up for a day, and whatever day they sign up for, I create a piece of art priced at $360. This process helps in a few ways: I get to sell more pieces that may otherwise be challenging to sell (they are the raw versions of my work; the initial layers that say as they began and get less layering and change) and it helps to have a more consistent and structured stream of income.