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.

Michael Dolen in the News