Elliott McDowell
Mystical Dreamscapes

Exhibition Dates: December 12, 2009 - January 15, 2010

" I believe that when I am creating I have entered a space I love beyond any I know.  I think and feel of it as a reverent place.  Miracles happen and magic flows."                    - Elliott McDowell 

Andrew Smith Gallery at 122 Grant St., Santa Fe, NM  87501 celebrates the Holiday Season in its new location next to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum with a book signing and exhibit for Elliott McDowell,  one of Santa Fe's most entertaining,  seasoned photographers.  Andrew Smith and bookstore owner Nicholas Potter first showed Elliott McDowell's photographs in the mid-1970s. This show marks the continuation of their thirty-five year relationship.  

Mr. McDowell will be at the gallery Saturday afternoon, December 12, 2009 from 2 to 5 p.m. to meet the public and sign copies of his new book,  Elliott McDowell: Mystical Dreamscapes.  The beautifully bound Special Edition book is limited to 108 signed copies and filled with full color reproductions.  Published in 2009 by Artbook Press, the book contains an essay by distinguished photography critic and author,  Eugenia Parry.  Priced $295.00, it comes with an original signed print of "Buji Bird."  The exhibit continues through January 18, 2010. 

In Mystical Dreamscapes McDowell delves into an imaginative world of wonderland gardens, golden suns, limpid pools, ancient trees, winding waterways, and stone paths that beckon the viewer to explore mysteries and magic.  The jewel colored photographs resemble miniature stage sets where scenes drift between waking and dreaming,  between familiar reality and the realm of fairy tales.  Recalling the magically charged atmosphere of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker,"  these photographs will appeal to people of all ages.

McDowell has spent decades collecting photographic images, first as color slides and later as digital imagery.  Traveling around the U.S., Europe and Asia he has collected thousands of  photographs of people, places and objects that have special meaning to him.  From his vast source material he constructs his composite images in Adobe Photoshop on the computer, much like a collage artist  who carefully layers and blends image fragments into compelling gestalt works.   Each minutely crafted photograph contains insights, wonders, and  riddles that nudge our perception out of its familiar ruts.

"Elliott's territory of thinking and feeling is fascination," writes Eugenia Parry.  "It is a new kind of geography, as concrete as any real experience."

Buji BirdBuji
"Buji" is a Zen term that means living naturally,  or being in accord with the moment.  This quality of being is perfectly embodied by an alert young heron who strides confidently along an idyllic seashore.  Emotionally, the components of the scene --  bird, waves, sky and puffy clouds work together seamlessly.   McDowell photographed the bird and foreground waves on a Florida beach, but he culled the curling wave and billowing clouds from a fragment of wall art that he photographed and later manipulated in Photoshop. 




Approaching Winter
Approaching Winter is composed of circles within squares.  At its base a bright-eyed owl (a live owl that McDowell photographed at close range) confronts us through gold and black orbs.  Above it a  semi-transparent circle contains the scene of an autumn forest.  This circle is set within a square whose ice-blue colors suggest frost covered tree branches.  The square, in turn, sits within a frame embellished with dark gray and black leaves.  Within the cycles of nature, McDowell seems to be saying it is wise to face the dark, cold winter and its inward focus with an owl's night vision.




McDowell visits Italy frequently, drawn by the festive spirit of the country and its gloriously beautiful colors and textures.  Amazingly,  in the high desert of northern New Mexico he has found similar atmosphere in the opulent costumes being designed for stars of the Santa Fe Opera.  The focal point of Aria is a sumptuous red gown from Mozart's era, but with a twist.   The shimmering dress floats against the weathered badlands of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, its bold crimson resounding like an operatic voice against a muted tan and gray background.    The entire image is framed by a rippling sheet of classical music.  



Sprinkled through out McDowell's images are delightful visual puns.  In Art/chery,  a large archery target framed in ornate gold is centered against a tapestry decorated with a forest scene.  This tapestry hangs in an actual forest,  presided over by a small elf in a pointed purple cap. 



Miracle FallsEMD
Miracle Falls
recalls the work of the German Romantic artist,  Caspar David Friedrich, who often painted solitary hikers contemplating sublime mountain ranges.  In McDowell's wry photograph a lone observer stares at a giant outcropping of desert rock spewing an enormous,  improbable waterfall.  

EMDDesert Rococo
In Desert Rococo a brocade theater curtain and Venetian chandelier hover like a  deus ex machina above a geometric maze (a real garden photographed in Italy).   The green maze merges smoothly into the distant mineral-red vistas of Monument Valley, begging the question of Who or What creates this endlessly rich and complex world of human achievement and geological wonders. 




EMDThe Prophetic Pine
McDowell not only juxtaposed a grotesquely shaped tree from in Italy against the peaceful,  verdant forests of Pethshire, Scotland.  The impression is of a gnarly pine mouthing nature's secrets through its knot holes.

EMDBodhi Leaf
When his daughter brought him a leaf from the Bodhi tree in India where the Buddha is said to have reached enlightenment,  McDowell set about making an image worthy of it.   A single leaf with a blue eye in its center floats mysteriously in a luminous sky,  mirrored below in a river and surrounded by circular ripples.  This image may be a meditation on ultimate truth verses the floating world of appearances.  It also echoes Leonardo da Vinci's observation:  "Just as the stone thrown into the water becomes the center and cause of various circles, and the sound made in the air spreads out in circles, so every object placed within the luminous air diffuses itself in circles and fills the surroundings with an infinite number of images of itself."  




Black and White Works
"In the beginning," writes Elliott McDowell, "there was black and white."  The exhibit at Andrew Smith Gallery includes some of McDowell's classic, impeccably printed photographs.  In the 1970s McDowell had mastered Ansel Adams's Zone System and was an expert at traditional photography techniques. Even so, his images were quirky, and more aligned with the playful sensibility of Jerry Uelsmann, Elliott Erwitt,  Man Ray,  and René Magritte than with Ansel Adams or Edward Weston.  

Even his straight photographs had a slightly bizarre character, such as "Fleetwood, New Mexico,"  where the shark like tail fins of a classic automobile dominate the foreground of a high desert landscape.  In "Boots and Wurlitzer" McDowell compared the curvilinear elegance of tooled leather roses on new cowboy boots to the perfection of a neon and chrome Wurlitzer juke box. And he paid a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Ansel Adams in his photograph of the winged hood of a Rolls Royce glinting under a New Mexico full moon.   

Amid the opulence of the material world McDowell felt compelled to interject some serious absurdity.  A framed reproduction of the Mona Lisa hangs on a pine tree in a mountain meadow.   A stylish Hamilton Beach blender resembling a street lamp overlooks a wilderness of arroyos and mesas.  The solemn little girl seated demurely on a massive fringed sofa could be Alice, except for the Groucho Marx eyebrows, nose and mustache. 

Liz Kay

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