What They Said: Annie Decamp, Michael Dowling show together at Aspen’s Red Brick Center
In ‘That’s What He Said, She Said’ artists reflect on collaboration over the years
Painter Annie Decamp met the Denver-based artist Michael Dowling at a show a few years ago, and asked if he would mentor her.
“We started talking and she was like, ‘I think I want to study with you or something,’” Dowling recalled this week. “I said, ‘All right, what do you have in mind?’”
The pair started doing regular studio visits and meeting about once a week to talk about their work, a process that’s evolved and deepened into a close collaboration, neighboring studios linked by a skylight and, now, a dual exhibition at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
The cheekily named show, “That’s What He Said, She Said,” places the pair’s work together at the Red Brick gallery and speaks to the influence the artists have had on one another.
Though it began in a mentor-mentee dynamic, these professional artists quickly found themselves on equal creative footing.
“She was also informing me about my work a lot of the time and helping me to understand ideas,” Dowling said. “We are much more on the collaborative end of things.”
A walk through the long hallway gallery space evidences the rhymes between their work, in subject and spirit and in common found objects, though stylistically they’re a ways apart with Dowling largely drawing on paper and canvas and Decamp mostly in encaustic and oil painting and digital imagery.
“We found there was this really cool dialogue happening there,” Decamp said. “Our subject matters changed, my processes have definitely changes and deepened. … My toolbox has expanded a lot to adjust to working with him.”
What: Annie Decamp and Michael Dowling’s “That’s What He Said, She Said”
Where: Red Brick Center for the Arts
When: Through May 13
More info: The exhibition is also viewable online at http://www.redbrickaspen.com
The show began with the pair trading ideas about the mentor/mentee relationship and the ways that people pass on experience, skill and knowledge. They wanted to put together an exhibition that reflected their ongoing dialogue and collaboration.
There’s a playful interaction between the works here — the light red color of a drawing of three hands, for instance, reflecting in a painted boxing glove work on a pedestal below it. Along one stretch of the gallery are three pairs of impressionistic portraits facing one another across the hall. Viewers also get to see how the artists use nontraditional materials like books — here opened, glued together and painted on or stacked up and used as a pedestal for a horse sculpture.
When the pandemic hit last spring, the artists paused in-person studio visits and saw their gallery shows canceled or postponed. So Decamp hatched an idea for outdoor, socially distanced exhibition in Denver. She also soon moved into a studio in the same building where Dowling works.
“Since then we’ve been able to have an almost daily collaborative exchange,” Dowling said. “Sometimes we pick up the paintbrush and work on each other’s piece to try and figure out what to do with them.”
Decamp is in a basement studio space, with a Plexiglas skylight that looks into Dowling’s studio.
“There a visual dialogue always happening,” Decamp said of the setup.
Around the New Year, the pair began a weekly exercise of painting something together. It pushes both to try something new, whether it’s using techniques borrowed from the Old Masters or incorporating found imagery or — as has been the case lately — playing with duct tape.
“We also deal with the nitty gritty of, like, ‘Hey, how do I make this painting work? Do I need green in this painting?’ There’s a lot of that,” Dowling said, “the more technical side of things.”
For the Red Brick, which itself has a long-established spirit of collaboration among the resident artist who keep studios there, the show continues a recent curatorial interest in collaboration-inspired shows. It follows the memorable collaboration-themed 2019 show “Odyssey Collective,” which showed the works of three artists with neighboring studios at Carbondale’s Studio for Arts + Works (SAW).
The forced innovation of the pandemic has also led the pair to collaborate on the business side of their art, which led to new — and successful — experimentation with shows and sales. The pandemic, mass closures, and the shutdown on gallery openings led much of the art world online and opened up doors for Decamp and Dowling.
“It got us to think differently about how to share our art and what it really means to get personal in sharing our art,” Decamp said.
They began staging outdoor shows, putting up tents with people masked and socially distanced — not a strict commercial art fair setting, but instead a collection small group and one-on-one meetings with artists and collectors. The format has led to some deep engagement with the work and human connections for people starved of it during the pandemic.
“The feedback we got was tremendous,” Decamp said.
They’re hoping to bring a similar event or series to Aspen for the summer, possibly working with the Red Brick to do so and possibly opening the door to dual city exhibitions with elements both here and on the Front Range.
“It felt more like a garden party,” Dowling said. “Having that open, connected exchange with just a few people was really magical.”
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Jazz Aspen Snowmass will hosts its annual June Experience and JAS Cafe concert series in-person this summer, releasing details and lineups Monday.