Brian Dowdall moved to Cocoa Beach--drawn to the ocean after growing up in Montana and
Minnesota--eighteen years ago to visit friends and wound up staying.
Dowdall's oldest surviving works are silhouette sand animals on
brown paper, simple, but exact. "I always liked making things with discards, like
cardboard. Sand was a fluke. I liked painting on paper bags and one day just went out into
the backyard and threw some sand on them. Julie," who's now his wife,
"said I could maybe get $2.00 for them."
Dowdall says his work--and his life--has become more focused
since he started painting animals on cardboard. "Cardboard is so universal," he
says. " People even live in it, and it just about lasts forever."
"I work every day. If I don't I get fidgety and feel
unbalanced." His current paintings of animals are layers of colors, almost like
auras. "When I was a boy I once ran up a mountain with my dog and tore my knee out of
my leg. Somehow I smacked the bones back inside and was able to crawl back down. I'll
never forget how my dog looked as I began to lose consciousness, like a creature in
He'll also never forget the nuns of his sternly religious
childhood: "One day the whole sky was an orchestra of leaves. You could hardly see
the sky through the swirling symphony of pulsing colors. The nuns said, 'Look at those
leaves! They're souls going to Hell!' It turned my ecstasy into a horror show. That's the
people who taught me."
Now Brian paints joyful animals on cardboard. It seems a way of
returning the horror to ecstasy, of sending those souls to Heaven. "Folk art is for
common folks, nothing high-fallutin'. I'm a ditch digger, a common laborer. I'd rather
have a guy off the street like my work than an art critic any day--I'd rather have my work
alive than go into the basement of some collector.
"Now I've channeled my energy into cardboard."
"Thank God," Julie says.
Copyright © 1997 Jeffrey Knapp and Tamara