Saturday 19 August 2017


I still calculate work in feet & hands. Stables & jockeys still measure their steeds in hands. My mother could accurately measure a yard of fabric from her nose to her outstretched hand.  I can stride across the grass and give u some square yards. The human body was a useful tool and tied to the land. 
KATE DOWNIE takes this one step further, by using our body as  "a poetic metaphor and handy travel guide around this collection of paintings, drawings and prints." 
DOWNIE's catalogue for her FESTIVAL show at the SCOTTISH GALLERY contains her own explanation as to her subject. "I am inspired by the ingenious & ubiquitous acts of engineering amidst the seas, mountains, & the envelope of air: concrete, asphalt, steel, glass & plastic, the modern stuff which humans have constructed." 

Yet Downie is a landscape painter. So how does that work? In an excellent essay novelist Sue Hubbard explains Kate's use of line - all journeys are linear, whether along a road river or a drawing board!
And Downie, a superb draughtsman, has always had a superb use of line. These black lines: of bridge, tower, pole, road signs, are for me her chief characteristic marks, a skeleton structure on which to build, be it a crowded city centre in Japan or an American road network. Most of the pictures here are robust oils, with some ink drawings too. And there are also a series of very loose Chinese ink & watercolour sketches of the Lofoten islands, off the coast of Norway  
I was interested in a set of screenprints made with Ros Lawless at GPS are particularly relevant here. Their experimental graphic exuberance and calligraphic quality comes from a combination of her Chinese pen technique learned in China, plus Downie's love of long train journeys, 1000 miles in Norway (see her image (Trondheim) 
or just from Edinburgh to Oban. 
To get a "bigger bolder view" she decided to tape acetate sheets onto the train window and draw images in black line on the acetate as the scene sped by. 
These acetates were then turned into the dominant silkscreen design on top of a blurred background from slow shutter speed film of yet another journey shot in autumn on the way to Oban. Thus 2 journey overlap, their superimposed imagery playing counterpoint as in jazz. 
Downie is well known for her love affair with the FORTH Bridge & now with the Queensferry Bridge, has been following the building of the new bridge. 
Downie is a constant traveler - near & far- 
and some of my favourite images are her Cross Country pen drawing from a British train 
plus her minimal 'Kyoto Shinkansen (Spinal Cord)' which she equates with travel in Japan. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting observations on Kate Downie's beautiful work, will definitely get along to the Scottish Gallery!