cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

thanks, ed

Quote for the day, from Ed Ruscha, “Whatever I do, I’m having a dialogue with myself.  That’s the impetus for it all… Two types of work might be different in some ways, but they have a little silver thread between them.”

And on that note, I’ll leave you with two types of my own work, side by side.  That silver thread is there, whether or not it’s immediately apparent.  It makes no difference at all to me whether I’m working with birds or people or chairs or steel, I am still working with the same broad set of concerns.  The sculptures obviously look different than the paintings, especially since I’m not doing figurative sculptures, but in my mind they are not so very different.  (These two, for instance, each have arms and legs!).

haven (II)

Another one of the large paintings…

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Haven (II), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Haven (II), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 107″, 2012

And here are some of my working materials…

Barbara Downs, photo of studio floor showing painting supplies

been gone too long

I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything on these pages, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.  I have several projects, so it’s difficult to know where to start.  It’ll take me some time to catch up here.

But I’ll start with my large-scale paintings. They technically are paintings, but I think of them as drawings. I’ve written about them already, but I’ve now finished more than a few of them and have more in the works, so they are starting to make some sense to me.  As I move forward with them, I find myself fighting my tendency to paint these pieces heavily, and to rework endlessly. If I want to do that, I should be working in oils on stretched canvases. These pieces are on unstretched canvas, and I mean them to be more akin to large-scale sketches, very direct and not too thickly painted.

They are to remain unstretched, as well.  As you can see with this one, they are hung on the wall with grommets and nails.  To me, they are evocative of parchment, or rawhide (another material that I’ve used in the past).

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 117″, 2012

The scale of these pieces is important to me, so for scale purposes, here is a photo R.R. Jones took of me standing in front of this painting.

Barbara Downs standing with her painting Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 117″, 2012

wax

This weekend is the last chance to see the spectacular encaustic show at the Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery. This show, curated by Wendy Aiken and Daniella Woolf, is certainly a must-see.

original artwork by Barbara Downs hanging in the exhibition Wax

Hanging right there on the front wall is a piece by yours truly. This piece, entitled One Thing is Not the Other, sold at the show, and I can honestly say I will miss it because it’s been hanging in my studio for the past few months (seen here on a wall at my Open Studios 2011).

It is 20″x86″, and is done over a photo I shot of a great blue heron at a natural history museum…certainly one of the more unusual taxidermy poses I’ve seen of a heron.

Here’s a close-up of this piece:

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail view of One Thing is Not the Other, Encaustic/Oil/Photo on Panel

detail view of One Thing is Not the Other, Encaustic/Oil/Photo on Panel, 20″ x 86″ x 2″, 2010, Private Collection

recant and reiterate

What was I thinking yesterday when I wrote, regarding my new large-scale pieces, “This has been satisfying work”?!? That sounds lackluster and ambivalent. I need to recant that statement, and I would like to state… no… exclaim, “This is great!  This is amazing and wonderful! I love doing this!”

You can’t see the gleam in my eyes, and therein lies the weakness in blogging to communicate these things.

Honestly, I do feel that I have found something that resonates deeply with me, and I’m thankful for that. I like the scale of these pieces, I like working in mixed-media, I like the fact that I can work at a quick pace but continue to iterate, and modify, and work over. I like the materials I’m using (thin paint, rollers, very nubby/toothy canvas). This might be the most fun I’ve had in the studio in years. Or ever.

Not to say there’s not a struggle to bring the image to fruition. These pieces have just as hard of a time being born as any piece does. I grapple with each one, painting this over, emphasizing that, removing the other thing. Eventually it starts to coalesce into something that makes sense to me.

Here’s one titled Haven, 6’x9′.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Haven (I), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Haven (I), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 72″ x 106″, 2012

And here’s a view of the studio, with three of these pieces up. Obviously the scale is important in these pieces, so this gives a better idea of scale. That middle one is not yet finished, but you’ll be sure to see it on this blog when it is. Large-scale paintings hanging in the studio of Barbara Downs

the bigger the better

I’ve been working on some large-scale pieces lately with my painting group. We’ve been working on 6’x9′ unstretched cotton canvas, stapled to the wall. I’m using primarily acrylic paint and gesso, along with various drawing materials. The gesso gives me a very opaque color and some tooth onto which the drawing materials can adhere.

This has been satisfying work, and has reminded me how much I enjoy working with mixed-media materials and working large, and how important drawing is to me, even when I’m painting.

Here’s my set-up…

Photo of the studio floor of Barbara Downs showing paints and drawing materials

And here I am working on the first piece…

Barbara Downs painting a large-scale painting in her studio

That piece, which was done a few weeks ago, is shown in this short video in various stages of completion…

You can see that I started with a canvas split into two halves, red and white. From there, I drew figures in, then drew and painted and edited over many iterations. The finished piece is titled “Falling and Fallen”.

in case you missed it

A bit late, but here are some photos from my open studios in October, in case you were unable to attend. These are my two favorite walls, showing paintings on one and encaustic and sculpture on another.  The chair on the wall is titled “Have a Seat”.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, painting and drawings on her studio wall Original artwork by Barbara Downs, encaustic and sculpture on the studio wall

pentimenti

Pentimenti – “A painter’s term for the evidence in a work that the original composition has been changed. Often the opaque pigment with which the artist covered a mistake or unwanted beginnings will, with time or injudicious cleaning, become transparent, and a revelation of original intentions will become visible through the finished composition.” Columbia Encyclopedia

David Cohen writes in his recent review of Jenny Saville’s show at Gagosian Gallery, “True pentimenti arise in the struggle to find position, to define form; they are retained either because the artist has no interest in disguising what led to the discovery; or else, sometimes, because they add texture, and thus heft, to an image (think Matisse, whose pentimenti somehow never undermine the illusion of single shot miracle in his charcoal drawings).  Or else, a tolerable mannerism, pentimenti can signal the effort and time that were necessary to fix the image and thus are part of that image (Larry Rivers, Frank Auerbach, Eugene Leroy.)”

My paintings often include pentimenti, as I layer paint over paint and modify color and composition. Sometimes I paint over old paintings, which is technically not pentimenti, but who’s going to argue the point? I like previous layers showing through…it’s less about mannerism and more about adding richness and unexpected passages to a painting.

faces

At Open Studios, someone asked me why I don’t paint faces on my figures, which caused me to pause and question myself, “Do I paint faces?”

Of course I do! They stare down at me from the paintings on my walls. My figures–and faces–have become more abstracted over the last several years, but facial expressions and body gestures remain of utmost importance. It’s a challenge to see how far I can distill things down while still retaining the humanness of the figure.

Here are some (of many) faces. You can click on the thumbnail to open the complete image.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop, Oil on CanvasOriginal artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Seated Woman), Chalk Pastel/Acrylic on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Pink Hat), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Seated Amanda), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Neon Reclining Nude), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Neon Standing Nude), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Tom Seated), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Seated, Rose), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Untitled Drawing (Standing Woman), Chalk Pastel on Paper Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Underground Stories, Oil on Panel Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of The Vision Test, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of The Petulant One, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of The Glass Slipper, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of The Agony of Enlightenment, Mixed Media on panel Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of The Aftermath, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Seated Figure (III), Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Resolute, or Stubborn?, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Reclined, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Not a Care in the World, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Nice Girls, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of My Twin My Shadow, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Migration (II), Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Internal Dilemma, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Interior and Interior, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of How to be a Lady, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of Going Away, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of After the Fall, Oil on Canvas Original artwork by Barbara Downs, detail of A Conversation, Of Sorts