The colorful mixed-media work of Michael Dolen pops without being reducible to the aesthetics of Pop Art. Incorporating geometric forms as much as painterly abstraction, Dolen’s more representational works carefully avoid any reference to illustration art or even topical events. Instead, his works absorb into themselves a kind of dynamic symbolism, which expressively comments on contemporary events without overplaying the artist’s hand.
Drawn to the communicative power intrinsic to shape, color, and line, Dolen creates works that destabilize tradition. Implying pictorial conventions and techniques only to deny them, Dolen’s work restlessly skirts away from easy categorization. Any semblance of illustration art, for example, found in his works calls into the question the limits of illustration art itself, using conventions specific to fine art to accomplish this. Nonetheless, the qualities generally associated with Color Field painting, as well as with a “baroque sensibility,” are undeniably present in his paintings.
In an art world more and more given over to conflate politics and aesthetics, Dolen asks us to contemplate his works for what they are: neither more nor less meaningful, charming, or rigorous than what reveals itself to the appreciative eye. It’s this impulse to realize works of beauty that leads Dolen to take on traditional topes, such as the reclining nude. Constructing a network of stylistic references around this readily identifiable theme gives Dolen’s sensibility free-reign to comment on the vitality of several 20th century approaches to picture-making, either within the context of a individual painting or within the arc of a pictorial series.
All of which is to say, Dolen’s creative process does not end with an exclusive reliance on any one technique. He displays instead a decided openness to many different approaches to art-making, and often creates a conversation between different schools and styles within his work. Far from fetishizing originality, Dolen’s artistry realizes a cross-section of art-historical influences, which makes his paintings feel commanding without being indebted to any particular artist or school. Ultimately, this creation of a rapport between disparate artistic tendencies can be considered Dolen’s finest achievement.