SANTA BARBARA NEWS PRESS, FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2008


ART REVIEW:  By the sea, in the city - Santa Barbara-born, -raised painter Roy Fowler demonstrates an attachment to the beachside culture of his youth.


Santa Barbara and New York meet, culturally and in historical fact, in the art of Roy Fowler, now on view at Patty Look Lewis. A mid-career painter based in New York City, Fowler was born in Santa Barbara in 1952, was raised here and studied art at UCSB before heeding the eastward call in 1976.

That much of the story is a matter of record. But, in various ways, at the risk of massaging geographical generalities and stereotypes, Fowler’s art seems to contain truths from the experience of both locales. The Santa Barbara stamp is easy enough to identify, in his intriguing series of paintings based solely on waves and seashells, while a New York state of artistic mindset is evident in the detachment and encoded stylistic imprint he brings to the beachside iconography.

Beyond the beach, and deeper in the heart of the Santa Barbara experience, Fowler shows a piece called “Coronado”, which will pique the interest of any local with butterflies on the brain. With this large painting, given the title of the Goleta road that runs through the suburbs to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve next to the Ellwood Bluffs, Fowler creates a semi-abstracted impression of the scene. Somehow, inhis breezy, Raoul Dufy-like way, Fowler deploys his gentle splash and swirl of colors to evoke the experience of that place. For those as-yet unfamiliar with the site, the piece speaks its own language.

Fowler also finds a personal voice in in his blending of painterly approaches. He explains that he often starts with watercolor, and either finishes there or brings that fluid medium into his practice of working with oils. We can see that transformation in the contrast of wave studies in both watercolor and oil on canvas -- but with a cool translucency akin to watercolor.

These larger wave paintings contain some of the sense of the surfer’s fetish with the break and shape of cresting waves and the almost mystical, cyclical force of nature attached to waves. But the works are also informed by the painter’s careful mixture of minimalist’s gestures and studies in patterning and visual energies within the picture frame.

More beachcombing and cultural reprogramming takes place in Fowler’s shell studies, with several specimens placed within individual compositions, hinting at a collector’s zeal. But again, the artist errs on the side of sparing detail in his depiction of natural artifacts other artists might apply fussy realist attention to.

With his alluring art, Fowler has ulterior expressive motives going beneath the cool, spartan surfaces. He’s exploring patterns, balances of space and light, and the challenge of a serious painter’s response to both the concrete (and natural) world and interior aesthetic urgings.



Roy Fowler