DU Senior Conor Dowdle Paints History in a New Light

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

"I paint thick, and I really like the physical aspect to painting," says 21-year-old Conor Dowdle. The University of Denver senior calls himself "a hyperactive person," which doesn't bode well for the sculpture class he's currently taking (too many active handsaws), but it fits in the less treacherous painting studio. "Painting classes are the kind of places you can run," explains Dowdle. "When a lot of gesture comes through in painting, I really like that."

See also: Sarah Fitzgerald Blurs the Line Between Graphic Design and Fine Art

Dowdle grew up in St. Paul, a city with a big arts community, and was into the outdoors, too. So when he started looking at colleges, DU was a logical choice: "Denver seemed like it had a similar mix of environment and culture," he says.

Four years later, Dowdle is studying fine arts at DU and anticipates wrapping up his BSA this summer. The program "is kind of like a liberal arts degree for art students," he says. "We don't declare focuses, but I do a lot of painting and drawing."

Dowdle's preferred medium is oil, and he works on canvas and also with found materials, like the piece of wood currently hanging at Kaladi Brothers Coffee. Dowdle curated the show -- on display through mid-February -- that features six other art students, most seniors at DU.

"Curating doesn't come naturally, but it worked well with my DU peers," Dowdle says. Although the Kaladi exhibition is his first show outside the university environment, his work has appeared in a few juried shows through DU.

During his sophomore year, Dowdle did a large-scale installation, The Big House, with fellow artist Danny Epstein. The duo turned one of the university's gallery spaces into a graffiti chapel, using candles and pews and covering the walls in "a mosaic scraping that had the design quality of stained glass windows," as Dowdle puts it.

History -- the kind found in old churches, 1930s union strikes and boarded-up psych wards -- is what inspires Dowdle. "Fight," for example, is "a simplification of figures from a still of a union strike that I scraped up on a weird website," he explains.

Whenever he's strapped for material, Dowdle turns to YouTube videos featuring antiquated scenes -- and anything depicting conflict will do. "I'm interested in ways you can portray unpleasant content that is culturally important in a very visually appealing way," says Dowdle, who uses bright colors like orange to counterbalance the tension.

Continue reading for more images of Conor Dowdle's work. "I tend to work on a bigger scale," Dowdle continues, noting that the detailed painting of an Oxford shirt, for example, was accomplished on a large, five-foot by seven-foot canvas. Paintings like this make it obvious that Dowdle is well-versed in layering. Back in high school, he often used graphite pencils and gained experience "building up tones," he says.

Dowdle isn't sure what, exactly, he'll do after graduation, but he knows that he wants to stay in Denver. The young artist has been volunteering at RedLine, and has met several artists in residence there, "absorbing all of the creative energy from cool and unique people."

And that's what makes this city so damn inspiring, he says. For more information on Dowdle, visit his website; see more of his work below.

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