Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Downy Doxey-Marshall’s “Bloom” Celebrates the Return to Life

Downy Doxey-Marshall, “Spring Dream”

Downy Doxey-Marshall must be one of the most autobiographical painters on the scene today. She’s well aware of this quality, which is deliberate, and speaks of it not only in her conversation, but in her gallery statements. The most recent of those accompanies Bloom, her exhibition of 13 paintings currently at Finch Lane Gallery, and is brief enough to quote here in full:

Spring is the subject, but it is not the reason. I’m interested in showing marks made by my own hand. I like what I’ve made because of the way it looks. It’s about looking at paint, and feeling, and not about talking.

In this, and other shows, she has demonstrated subtle, yet real emotional responses to her subjects aligned with her shifting feelings, sometimes grave but more often exuberant, each outing’s subsequent body of work sharing a particular mood and character. Her oils, which are almost always substantial in size and often quite large, ignore the underlying earth, for the most part, in order to focus on bodies of water and the lush foliage that grows in and on them. While not so famous as the familiar valleys and mesas, towers and arches in Utah’s south, these are real places that she’s sought out, visited repeatedly—usually in company with her husband and ally, Todd Marshall—and re-presented with an extensive variety of techniques.

Examples of the latter abound here, in canvases that range from richly-detailed, thickly-painted passages that border on impasto, to washes so thin the canvas’ surface becomes part of the final work. If her statement hadn’t already called attention to her hand, the expressive painting here would definitely do so. And yet her remarkable illusionistic skill, into which her craft disappears, is everywhere in evidence. In “Water Garden 2,” overhanging branches, distant lily pads, erupting leaves in the foreground, and intricate flowers combine to produce a visceral feeling of space that overlays smears and drips on the water’s surface. “What I saw” coexists in the same space with “How I painted it.”

Downy Doxey-Marshall, “Water Garden 2”

In Modernism, brush size constitutes one of the metrics of technique. Some of the brushstrokes here seem to have been made by extraordinarily broad tools—in “Celebration,” wherein the blooms resemble jewels set on a swirling fireworks of color, fields that might have been done with housepainters’ brushes appear in places to have given way to squeegees. A whole range of spontaneous, unrepeatable curves, drips, scrapes, and assorted implications back up the specific trees, leaves, flowers, and even feathers that form the focal points of Bloom.

There’s no denying that Bloom also includes some of Doxey-Marshall’s more abstract compositions. In “Blossom Breeze,” situated opposite the gallery office, the title wind is represented by blurring, but the blossoms are still present. In “Spring Dream,” on the other hand, almost nothing is solid or precise, and dreamlike elements prevail. But it isn’t necessary to conclude that this master of explicit Nature has abandoned literal representation. Instead, take her title literally. As a noun, “bloom” refers to the dominant subjects of these paintings, but taken as a verb, it describes action. In “Spring,” the action of blooming seems to overtake not only flowers, but the whole world: not just foliage, but water, released from winter captivity in showers to fill ponds, lakes, and streams. Sunlight fills the sky and specific shadows reappear, grays yield to pastels, and those viewers fortunate enough to participate in this swiftest and most complete change are equally likely to be transformed by it. That’s the true subject here: the return to life that is felt in response to seasonal rebirth.

Downy Doxey-Marshall, “Blossom Breeze”

“Perfume,” which attempts nothing less than to paint a fragrance, and the double meaning of the title “Bouquet,” might well be interpreted in terms of synesthesia, the recently popular scientific term for the phenomena whereby sensory elements in some people burst their anatomical boundaries, so that sounds or even sights as abstract as shapes invoke colors, odors and flavors. Visual artists, poets, and their audiences are among those who often report these events, which are experienced not just as mental links, but actual sensations.

Recently, we’ve undergone a variety of climate changes, some welcome and some not. Winter in lower Utah has been less severe, while snowfall in the mountains has helped with our predicament as the state with the second lowest precipitation and the second highest per capita water use. At the same time, this pattern has meant that Spring has not brought the same welcome and unmistakeable change as was true in the past. Mild winters may be robbing us of the release Spring once brought after a hard winter. That may be the significance of Downy Doxey-Marshall’s “Wish for Spring:” a desire that the old-fashioned bursting forth of Nature convey as much as it once did so dependably.

Downy Doxey-Marshall, “Wish for Spring”



Downy Doxey-Marshall, Bloom, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 19. Receptions: Mar. 15 & Apr. 19, 6-9 pm.


1 reply »

  1. A review as sumptuously written as the works it is about are painted. Downy Doxey-Marshall just gets staggeringly better with each show she presents and I am eager, having read Geoff’s words, to see this one at Finch Lane. It promises to be richly rewarding. Laura Durham first wrote about this artist here in 2005; I profiled the Marshalls in 2020 or so, Geoff has followed Downy closely ever since as she has truly and deservedly soared. That’s a terrific story of evolution in itself.

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