cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

an inviting leaf

My sculpture that is in Art in the Arboretum: Color (see my previous post) started life as a wall sculpture, as photographed here.

Now installed outdoors and low to the ground in a garden setting, it’s a different sort of sculpture entirely.  It’s dramatic on the wall, and looks almost opaque to me, but outside near the ground it’s much quieter and the mesh looks more transparent than in these photos.  It blends in well with it’s surroundings. I like it in both places, for different reasons, but seeing it in a new way gives me some ideas about working again with this steel-mesh material.


An Inviting Leaf, Painted Steel and Wire Mesh, 60" x 60" x 36", 2009

An Inviting Leaf, Painted Steel and Wire Mesh, 60″ x 60″ x 36″, 2009, photo by RR Jones

detail of An Inviting Leaf, Painted Steel and Wire Mesh, 60" x 60" x 36", 2009

detail of An Inviting Leaf, Painted Steel and Wire Mesh, 60″ x 60″ x 36″, 2009, photo by RR Jones

art in the arboretum: color

I am thrilled to be included in the current exhibit at the UCSC Arboretum, Art in the Arboretum: Color.  It’s a beautiful exhibit in a gorgeous setting.  I love the experience of spying a sculpture off in the distance through the foliage, and, as I walk towards it, being distracted by another sculpture that I discover on the way.  I truly hope you will be able to see it for yourself.  If you can come this Friday, November 4, 4-6pm, you can meet the artists at our First Friday reception.  But you can visit the arboretum any time to  walk the grounds and discover it for yourself.  More details can be found on the UCSC Arboretum website.

In addition to the First Friday reception this week, there is a metal-working workshop from 1-4pm on Friday which should be fun and informative.  Sign up!  Click on the thumbnails below for more details on both the exhibit and the workshop.


sculpture is: in the gallery

I’m thrilled to be a part of this fabulous show at the Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery. Many thanks the the gallery and curators for putting together such an exciting and vibrant show.


I was pleased to learn that my two assemblage sculptures made with repurposed chair legs, rawhide and horsehair have sold already. I will be working on similar pieces in a demo at the gallery on May 15 before the reception. See the announcement above for details.

original artwork by Barbara Downs, Duck Disguise, Repurposed Chair Leg, Horsehair, Steel, 7" x 23" x 8", 2013

Duck Disguise, Repurposed Chair Leg, Horsehair, Steel, 7″ x 23″ x 8″, 2013

original artwork by Barbara Downs, Heron Disguise, Repurposed Chair Leg, Rawhide, Steel, Upholstery Tacks, 7" x 34" x 7", 2013

Heron Disguise, Repurposed Chair Leg, Rawhide, Steel, Upholstery Tacks, 7″ x 34″ x 7″, 2013

I have three pieces from my Artifacts series in the show as well, though I have yet to blog about this new sculpture series. These are my newest pieces and I will be writing about them soon. Click on the image below to see more of these sculptures, and come to the gallery to see them in person!

original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Artifacts (IV), Plaster and Mixed-Media

detail of Artifacts (IV), Plaster and Mixed-Media, 13″ x 14″ x 11″, 2016

ten months

If you’ve read this blog over the past year, you’ll know that I’ve been doing some pieces based on the Iceland landscape. I’ve never blogged about why I started working with that landscape to begin with, and, as a side note, why I haven’t posted since October 2.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (V), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (V), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper, 38″ x 50″, 2015

It starts with this…my sister Carol and I fell in love with Iceland several years ago when we went there specifically to ride Icelandic horses. We loved it for similar reasons (which had little to do with horses): a certain resonance that we found within ourselves for its overwhelming space and sky and land, its weather and its people, and with all those things that make Iceland what it is.

So we went there when we could. Again and again. In the summer, in the winter, in the seasons in-between. When we were there, I photographed that landscape, and I collected materials, and I contemplated the horizon.

I found myself generally frustrated with my attempts to approach the landscape from an artistic perspective. That land and sky are already full and complete and wholly contained within themselves. And they are big, in spite of the notion that Iceland is a small island in the middle of a big ocean. Every vista was expansive. Around every corner was a new perspective, just as heartbreakingly-beautiful as the last.

My sister and I were mesmerized by the land and sky and ocean, but my paper and canvases felt too small for the task at hand. Every time I tried to work with it, I ended up gazing around in wonder and getting side-tracked with the sheer beauty of the place.

Then Carol was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. With treatment, she could gain some time to do those things that she needed to do. Spending time with siblings and parents was first on that list, but Iceland was also on that list. During our medical trips to UCSF, hoping to be on the positive side of the statistics, we talked about Iceland. Sometimes we just silently crossed our fingers. But that got me thinking…if Carol can’t go to Iceland again, maybe I can bring it to her.

So I started my drawings of Iceland, focusing on buildings and the horizon line. I knew I couldn’t bring the immensity of the landscape to her, but I could bring her some familiar views.  I imagined that I would be able to surround her with Iceland, with drawings on every wall and spare corner in my studio. Mind you, it’s not that I exactly envisioned that this would happen in “real life”…it’s not like that. It’s not that literal, not that direct. It was the intention of the work though. It was the impetus, the genesis, the seed of an idea.

Originally my buildings had no doors, and Carol noticed and mentioned it to me. It didn’t bother me; the door seemed unimportant to the drawing. But one night I woke up in a cold sweat as I realized that having no door meant that we had no entrée to that world again. Acting on that feeling, I added doors to all the drawings the next morning, wrote this post (here), and changed the name of the series to “Talisman”.

It must have worked, because we went back to Iceland three times last summer. Back home again, ten months after her diagnosis, Carol passed away, on October 10.

The Iceland work (here) continues, in drawing and painting and mixed-media form. The place now has a deeply layered meaning to me, all tangled up with the person that I’m missing. — Takk fyrir Carol, og megi reiðtúrinn aldrei enda.


photo of cairn in Iceland

Carol making a cairn in Iceland

babies and barns

Barbara Downs studio

On the eve of Open Studios (tomorrow and Sunday!  11am-5pm!), I’m thinking about my work that’s hanging in my studio and what all the connecting threads are from one series to another.  With that in mind, here is the statement that I wrote for a recent show:

What do babies and barns have in common?   They both spring forth from the same set of ideas for me: “elemental” in both meanings of the word:  1) primary or basic; 2) related to or embodying the powers of nature.

The barn is in Iceland, a land that truly embodies the powers of nature.  The sky and land there slam together at an insistent horizon line, rendering human structures fragile and insignificant.  When I’m in Iceland, I feel the growth and formation underfoot; Iceland is a baby in geologic terms. If I could live a millennium, I could see what it is becoming.

That baby is growing too, just about bursting out of its cage, embodying its own true nature. The cage, like the barn, may provide a degree of protection, but the structures are ultimately ineffectual.  Though it’s a wee baby, it’s the opposite of fragile and insignificant—in fact, it’s full of potential and larger than life.  The baby is the landscape, and the landscape is the baby.   —  Barbara Downs

And that said, please visit me this weekend and see the babies and barns.


the photographer and the photographs

RR Jones photographed some of my work the other day, both new pieces as well as older drawings that I had never had photographed.  Here is Ron, photographing something new, amidst the drawings now hanging for Open Studios.

Barbara Downs photo shoot

And here are a few of the photographs he shot…these are drawings from a few years ago. I have always envisioned these three being hung together, in this order.  Thanks to our wonderful model Melinda for having the imagination to show up with a tutu!

that barn

I’m continuing on with my Iceland landscapes.  I’m not so sure that the original photo needs any interpretation, but perhaps this in-progress painting gives some idea what I’m seeing when I see that barn, and that landscape.

freehand: a drawing show

I am excited to be a part of this beautiful exhibition.  We have a reception this Sunday, May 17, from 4:30-6:30.  Please join us!

Barbara Downs Postcard for Freehand: A Drawing Show

oh iceland

I’m back in Iceland, taking a lot of photos for later use in the studio, as inspiration for drawings and paintings.

Barbara Downs photo of Iceland

The horizon line is not as prominent in this one as in some of the other photos I’ve taken (and in all of the drawings), but I like that line of fenceposts and the inconsequential-looking building against the overwhelming landscape.

That inconsequential-looking building would keep you warm though. Yes, it’s May, but Iceland doesn’t know that.

reception this friday!

Please come to the reception this Friday if you can: A Figurative Affair 2015, Blitzer Gallery on the west side of Santa Cruz…

Barbara Downs announcement for A Figurative Affair 2015 exhibition