cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

out of the fire

I’m very happy to be a part of this multi-media exhibit which explores artwork that uses fire in the making of the work. You’ll see a wide range of mediums and artwork in this show, including my own work, below.

Please join us for the opening reception this Sunday, August 13, 2-4pm at Pajaro Valley Arts, 37 Sudden St. in Watsonville.


passages, at curated by the sea

I’ve been working for a while on a new series titled Pentimento, which you can see in more detail here.  Almost as soon as I started these pieces they were destined for a two-artist exhibition with my good friend (and amazing artist!) Susana Arias,   It’s not too late to see this exhibition, which is up until August 19, at Curated by the Sea Gallery in downtown Santa Cruz.  If you can’t get there, here are some photos from the show, but of course it’s always even better seen in person.  I feel that our work plays well together and am just thrilled with the exhibition. 

Here’s what I wrote for the exhibition about the Pentimenti series:

Pentimento refers to visible traces of earlier paintings underneath a final painting. Sometimes these earlier layers are visible because the top paint has become more transparent over time. Sometimes earlier layers are seen with x-rays or other imaging. But always it refers to a part of the painting that the artist later covered up. With this series, I exposed the earlier layers myself, and had some surprises along the way. I don’t always remember every stage of a painting, and I often paint over completed paintings with something completely different. Seeing the choices I had previously made has me thinking about the sorts of choices I now make with my work. But there’s also an analogy to other sorts of histories in my life: people who have come and gone, things I’ve done that are now in my past, those loved ones who I miss every day. An alternate title for this series was Requiem, and they are, in a way, requiems to some sort of past.



when in venice

We took a detour on our way to the Vermeer exhibition in Amsterdam to stop into Venice for a day.  And when in Venice…I have to go see Titian’s Pesaro Madonna at the Frari.

Ir’s one of my favorite paintings, with such a tight composition that it could be hewn out of stone. In fact, it does feel sculptural to me, with a mass of figures and fabric, all rising from the base. Titian masterfully leads your eye around the painting, up the triangle of figures and back down and around again. Mary will forever look downwards towards St. Peter, and that Pesaro boy will forever look outwards at us from the bottom right corner, turning the viewers into voyeurs.

Of course, there were also some St. Sebastian sightings around town, and plenty of hands and feet, not to mention gold leaf.


the pandemic project — installed at palazzo mora

The Pandemic Project is up in Venice!  I’m beyond excited to be part of the Personal Structures — Reflections exhibition at Palazzo Mora, organized by the European Cultural Centre in the context of the 59th Venice Biennale.  Click here for the exhibition website.

Instruction-manual fetishists might be interested in the installation manual I wrote for the piece. I didn’t know if I’d make it Venice to help with the installation, so I went all out documenting the process. The installation manual is either a work of art (my daughter’s view) or a fever dream (my husband’s view).  I’ve uploaded the pages here, if you’re interested in seeing how my anxiety played out.

I did make it to Venice, and many thanks to the art installers I worked with, Matteo, Daniele and Clara, who made the whole process go smoothly! There are two openings on April 21 and 22; if any of you will be in Venice at that time please contact me so that I can send you a registration link to attend (due to covid rules, attendance is limited).

Here are some photos from the installation…


the pandemic project – nearing completion

This wall-sized piece has been my main studio work during the pandemic; it’s been my response to the global catastrophe as well as to the ordinary triumphs and tragedies that have occurred as usual in our lives.  The triumphs have been made less celebratory and the tragedies more difficult by the predicament we find ourselves in.

I’ve been struck by how, even in a pandemic, life goes on—and it sure is messy sometimes.  I keep having the distinct impression that we’re being kicked while we’re down.

I’ve posted before about this piece, which you can find here.  It’s not yet quite finished, and I think the element I’m adding will clarify my ideas even further, if all goes as planned.  I’ll post again when I have new photos of the completed project.


The Pandemic Project, mixed-media acrylic/ink on canvas, rust-patina steel, 112” x 185”, 2021, photo by R.R. Jones

Barbara Downs studio

R.R. Jones photographing The Pandemic Project in my studio

urban birds, the complete boxed set

I’ve finished these pieces for the Pajaro Valley Arts Take Aways: Art to Go! exhibition, April 7 – May 23.  More details will be available on their website soon regarding visits to the gallery, but this fundraising show is always full of a huge variety of artwork at incredible prices and I encourage everyone to take a look.

Here’s another photo to give an idea of scale, context, and framing.

urban birds

I’m painting birds again.  I’ve drawn and painted plenty of birds before, and written about it too, notably with The Daily Bird.  The most salient point I’ve made about birds is that they are one of the few wild animals with which we interact on a daily basis, even if we don’t think of our urban birds as being “wild” because of the degree to which they’ve adapted to our presence.

I’m not a birder, I often don’t know the name or habits of the birds that I see (although I do often make an effort to find that information later), but I like to observe them and I take many photographs of birds being birds.

These pieces are slated for the upcoming Pajaro Valley Arts TakeAways exhibition, which is a fundraising exhibition for a fantastic organization.  April 7 – May 23, 2021, more details soon.  Hopefully a few more birds soon too, to complete the set.


a pandemic project

I started this blog post several weeks ago about a project I’m doing in response to the pandemic, but that was before California caught on fire and we had to evacuate.  Back home again, I’m also back to this project, so it’s a good time to finish the post too…

Here we are in the throes of a global pandemic, and what’s an artist to do?  I started the pandemic by sewing masks—hundreds of cotton masks—for family and friends, of course, but also for essential workers and underserved communities.  It’s satisfying to do something that contributes to community health.  Here are some of the (1500+!) masks I’ve made.

Returning to my studio after the shelter-in-place, I rediscovered a project that I’d begun just before the pandemic hit.  I had cut up a large painting from years ago, intending to reconfigure it onto flat panels.  But after all that mask-making, I now saw fabric instead of canvas.  The pieces were the right form-factor for masks, ignoring the size of course.

Here’s the original painting from 2013, and then the same painting after I had cut it into pieces.

So I started pleating and tried many different ways to modify and reassemble the pieces.   My typical process is often lengthy, with plenty of trial-and-error, but this project is really taking a long time. Like a painting, every little change affects the entire assembled piece and requires revisions elsewhere.  Anyway, we’re on covid-time now, so I just try to be patient and let the process play out.

Here are some photos from this process, but it’s not finished yet.  The steel edging will most likely have a rust-patina finish, so imagine the color change from the raw steel.  You check back into this blog for further updates and hopefully some photos of the entire piece, soon, I hope!


inside outside

I’ll be in the upcoming show Take Aways: Art to Go! at the Pajaro Valley Arts gallery, January-March 2020. I’ve written before about this yearly show in this blog post, which explains my approach to the work I do specially for this show, so you can read that for more details.

But I’ll just say this: I think about these pieces as being sort of like “idea sketches”, and the pieces will resonate throughout my upcoming work in ways both obvious and surprising.

This year my series is titled Inside Outside.  It has two components: the “outside” are small square barn paintings and the “inside” are small mixed-media pieces made with rawhide, tar paper and (most importantly) horsehair. I ride horses, my daughter and I have horses, so I spend a fair amount of time with horses, and this is my way of using them as a subject matter. So see for yourself here, and come to the show to see the vast and varied selection of artwork.


sempione news

Many thanks to Mauro Bianchini, who wrote an article for the Sempione News about my piece Making My Own Paradise, currently on display at Palazzo Mora in Venice Italy: Sempione News: Mauro Bianchini on Barbara Downs Making My Own Paradise

Before I say more, I just want to add that I love Venice: the people, the architecture, the art, the history.  My thoughts go out to that beautiful city and its people through the devastating flooding that they are experiencing.

As to the article, for those of us who don’t speak Italian, here’s the Google Translate version:

Here’s a photo of me with my entire installation at Palazzo Mora.

Barbara reading her statement at Palazzo Mora, next to Making My Own Paradise and Nothing But Blue Skies


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