Karen Dow and Christopher Mir are married and share space in their garage, which they converted into a studio. Three of Mir’s paintings look like this—

—and this—

—and this.

And two of Karen Dow’s paintings look like this—

—and this.

Nothing in common, right? Wrong.

Mir’s paintings start from collages he makes in Photoshop, from found images, pictures he takes himself (he had one of the collages out for spectators to see; sadly, my brain wasn’t yet functioning enough to understand that I should have taken a picture of it for you to see; people, please blame me). Why paint them then, I asked. Part of it was what Mir called a commitment to painting as an art form. But another part of it, he explained, is that painting the collages forced the eye to see the images first as coherent wholes, to take them in all at once. In doing so, Mir was able to riff on the surrealist premise that there is, after all, such a thing as the unconscious, and that there should be room to play, to get lost in a thing without having to impose meaning on it right away.

Dow told me that once she too had been a more realist painter, but over time, she grew steadily more abstract, more interested in form and color than in depicting images; part of the reason, it seemed, was the same playing with meaning. See a painting of a chair, you think, “hey, that’s a chair.” See a painting of something that’s harder to read, and it’s harder to know what to think.

And Dow, like Mir, starts from collages; from photographs. Here’s a photograph Dow was working from—

—and here’s the painting.

Another photograph—

—and another painting.

On the way out, I mentioned to Dow how my own taste in art was moving toward more abstract paintings. She said something casually about how she likes the way more abstract paintings work in a room, because a realistic painting is like a window to another place, while an abstract painting changes the place you’re in. I understood what she meant; she said easily what I’d been trying to formulate for myself. And I thought of how similar both Dow and Mir were—different approaches, but the same interest, in getting us to look differently.

Brian Slattery is an editor of the New Haven Review. He also writes novels and plays as much music as he can.Courtesy of Tom Macmillan

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