MICHAEL DOLEN ARTIST STATEMENT:
“As a painter I’ve always been drawn to high-intensity surfaces, full-tilt coloration and structures that accommodate the intersection of abstract and geometric forms. Even in my marginally representational works I’ve wanted to avoid any semblance of illustration or topicality, preferring tension and suggestiveness to resolution or statement. Where I am drawn to biomorphic shapes I want them to seem compelling in themselves and also as dynamic elements in a design that is never entirely comfortable with its own devices. As I look at the recent works I’ve painted I see that there is nothing settled or easy-going about them. Though I am willing to sign on to the idea that in art everything is now permitted and that artists are free to go wherever their imaginations may take them, I believe that my own works are responsive to formal and conceptual constraints, and that no viewer will fail to sense the importance of those constraints, even where they elude explicit definition.
Of course I am often tempted to apply labels to my own works as a way of explaining to myself where they belong. Are there signs of what one critic called “an essentially baroque sensibility”? No doubt there are such signs, as in the presence of baroque swirls, deep, sometimes sumptuous coloring, curving figures, improbable conjunctions. And yet I am reluctant to settle for any such sense of the work, or for an approach that would emphasize traces of Color Field painting or of any other modernist tradition that might suggest an orthodoxy or a program for doing more or less the same sort of thing over and over again.
Are there characteristic preoccupations in my recent work? I think there are, and those preoccupations have rarely to do with narrative or theme. Better, I think, to regard the works as serious exercises in the handling of illusionistic and abstract space, in which the goal, above all, is the creation of an emotional weather. Can that weather include the sense that we have not yet entirely overcome our lust for the beautiful? I think it can. My hope is that viewers of the work will discover that lust, that persisting predilection in their encounter with these paintings, even where the compositions seem—as they are—disjunctive, ambiguous and, at their best, enigmatic.”
HAEL DOLEN: The Ladder Series Paintings
Sometimes a ladder is only a ladder: no doubt about that. And yet, in the ladder series of artist Michael Dolen, ladders often suggest a good deal more than practical devices or visual props. They call to mind not just the standard ups and downs, ascents and descents but a wide range of human experiences: loss and gain, ambition and disappointment, risk and ambivalence.
Dolen’s paintings are not narrative works with an obvious story-line or an explicit message. They are, in several senses of the term, constructions, some of the time literally so, as when Dolen affixes ladder-like painted-wood fragments to the surface of what thereby become collage-like assemblages.
But then Dolen always conveys odd effects of irregularity and mixing, structure and deconstruction. So disorienting are his juxtapositions, even within rigorously organized works, that his ladders often suggest nothing less than a device for climbing out of, escaping from the puzzlement we feel as we make our way through the teasing surfaces of his intricately ordered, compact compositions.
Dolen’s paintings are always viscerally engaging. They are some of the time intimate, embedding teasingly anecdotal details, but elsewhere they are largely abstract and theatrical. A circus-like flamboyance alternates with what can be a surprising commitment to an almost classical poise and serenity. Visual quotations are as apt to be drawn from the artist’s sketchbooks as from the tradition of European and American art, high and low, vernacular and formalistic.
In short, Dolen is a modernist painter, regarding each new work as an opportunity to surpass a boundary and to conduct visual experiments without having in view fixed outcomes. A master draughtsman and brilliant colorist, Dolen is also inveterately mischievous and playful. The ladders in his new series provide a recurring motif and a discipline, a suggestive visual symbol and an implicit commentary upon the artist’s will to impose clarity and regularity upon a process that is protean and unpredictable.
Editor, SALMAGUNDI Magazine
“Michael Dolen is an articulate story teller and poet who creatively speaks to an audience through his narrative and engaging canvases that often are reminiscent of early WPA murals where some of the very best American painters sharpened their artistic skills into communicative compositions. Dolen’s work is packed with surprises accented by multiple layers of figurative outlines, exotic designs, abstract configurations and harmonic color combinations that provide a visual feast for the eyes!”
~ Bruce Helander
AN AFTERNOON AT THE SHORE: THE LINEAR SERIES
6’-0” X 4’-0” Oil on Canvas
Three linear female figures, and a bird; all over-layering a boardwalk with the sea in the background… The linear forms are structured to appear over two floral wallpaper patterns. This work is my attempt to give the viewer an opportunity to reassess their sense of illusionistic and abstract space, and to hopefully challenge their visual assumptions.
FOUR FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE: THE LINEAR SERIES
7’-6” X 3’-4” Oil on Canvas
Four Curving Linear Figures are superimposed over each other, and over floral/hard-edged abstract shapes. I placed the figures in seated and reclining positions that “float” in space. Hopefully, my decision to “float” the figures purposefully eludes explicit definition, and avoids narrative orthodoxy. I wanted the the arrangement of figures to be compelling in themselves, and act as dynamic elements in a design that was, fundamentally enigmatic.
TRAVELS: 6’-0” X 4’-0” Oil on Canvas
This work was completed after returning to Saratoga Springs, ( my home and Studio 1999-2015). The work is based on the drawings I had done during visits to Mexico, Rhode Island, and the Adirondacks.
I attempted to convey and encapsulate my travels to the viewer, with a sense of varied playful and serene environments. Landscapes, still-lifes, food and flower arrangements; all interrupting, and flowing into each other, providing improbable visual interactions and conjunctions.
IN THE GARDEN: THE LINEAR SERIES 6’-0” X 4’-0” Oil on Canvas
This piece is one of over twenty oil on canvas works completed between 2000 and 2006. This SERIES combine both figurative elements, abstract forms and shapes, and “borrows” formal cubist elements. “In the Garden” projects three linear images; Two female figures and a female face. They are superimposed over the floral and cubist background. My goal was to provide an uninterrupted constant sense of “Visual Layering.
Michael Dolen’s most recent work explores the theme of the circus: a site earmarked as being an imbricated network of activity, often involving rituals, risk, and sudden climaxes. Reflecting this carnivalesque energy, Dolen’s works use a variety of media; doing so, they capture the essence of the circus as a cross-section of chaotic forces. Figures are typically revealed only in mask, and only through the lens of a perspective that melds the wilding distortionof funhouse mirrors with the exacting rules of Cubist proportion.
In the mixed-media work Circus Figures 921V, the visual center of the painting depicts two jesters engaged in a seemingly impossible acrobatic maneuver. The detail with which the figures are rendered willfully contrasts with the jazzy abstraction that fills out the left- and right-side of the picture. Because each figure — the main attraction, so to speak — is rendered with such care, the visual noise at the picture’s margins takes on symbolic meaning. The abstract markings come to compose an audience, a throng of anonymous faces bedazzled by the spectacle of the two jesters performing an athletic feat.
Influenced by Modernism and Abstract Expressionism while studying art at The Cooper Union, Dolen has built on those traditions and taken them in a new direction. With over 30 years of experience as a graphic designer, he applies the clarity of that discipline to the sensuous forms and lush colors he employs, creating a unique, engaging body of work. The artist lives and works in New York City.