Dirk Fowler's New Work
In the newly occupied Studio D at the CASP studios, Dirk Fowler showcased his new prints as part of the First Friday Art Trail. Some prints are large banners, others his typical poster-sized paper works hung as stand-alones or set into larger installations.
I was immediately uncomfortable when I entered the space. To be fair, there are large, propaganda-like posters and banners with imposing red and black shapes on white backgrounds flanking the room. Also, there are posters laden with “K”s. I asked Fowler about those in particular, and he responded (clever, as always), “Well, there are four of them. Are they ‘K’s?” No, they are chevrons and parallel lines, rather, forward and backward Ks. Or upside down. Either way, I’m not the only one who was uncomfortable (one woman walked in, saw the set up, said “oh, no” and walked away).
Dirk is a rockstar, rather a graphic designer and artist to the rockstars, but I’ll give a little background. The work I’m familiar with are his “hidden picture” design and art posters that are simple exercises in positive/negative reversal and perception--I use the word simple as a compliment, his work is often one- or two-color and composed of basic shapes, but is complicated in genuinely delightful ways. Tonight, there were subtle moments in his letter studies-- I (with the help of my friend) could find possible eyes, thongs on voluptuous butts, maze lines, sexual positions, and figure/ground reversals that led to new shapes.
Even the innocuous “ABC 123” diptych had triangles set below it, forming a skull-like installation. What were affects of the studio, large pieces of wood that created the giant prints, propped against the wall seemingly thoughtlessly (though, I doubt it) work with the prints, making them look like eyes with a mouth gaping in horror.
But, back to addressing the more startling work. In his answer that there were “four K’s” Fowler isn’t being glib, rather, he is illustrating the power of the visual in an exercise in semiotics, the power of graphic design: this whole exhibition could be summed up in this way. The impressive, if not domineering, works in this regard are the banners.
Upon talking to Dirk, I found that they are going to appear in the Lubbock ballet production of “Click”, (aha, they are sideways “C”s!) and will have the context of other banners alongside them. Maybe it is the stark, industrial studio space, the white walls, white banners, “strong” design- these banners absolutely read as some sort of propagandist promotion, an authority-riddled eye gazing down at me.
Maybe I assume too much. Maybe it’s the current political climate that led to some of Dirk’s pet projects, like the Statue of Liberty drowning on her own tears and in these large, barren works he is externalizing a more sinister, bleak visual that he, too, is afraid of.
Maybe it’s a study of how we are conditioned to see, homage to John Berger. Any interaction with Dirk can be didactic (he’s a born educator), and I think this work is meant to warn me- how a harmless “C” and red circle can terrify me (or possibly unify others). Maybe it’s a purely formalist study. That said, this isn’t the Crapstraction or Zombie Formalism that has had critics down. It is energized, powerful, and frightening as hell.
*The author's opinions are her own.