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Richard Downs
Working in Wire
posted:
A sheet of Calder Stamps from my flat drawer | 1997 | If you do anything with wire you have to look at his fantastic work and that of Ruth Asawa.
 

Working in wire was a simple enough idea and the necessary contrast that I needed for my Bay Area solo show at the end of 2013 at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland, Ca. I needed an extension to my monotypes to contrast and round out the show. 

 

My dad was a civil engineer for the Southern California Edison Company and one of my many post high school labor jobs was starting a masonry business with a friend of mine. We got neighborhood jobs doing used brick decks and short retaining walls, simple homeowner stuff that didn't require any kind of engineering. One day we were asked if we could do a suspended concrete deck off of a pool set on a steep hillside in Glendale Ca and I told my partner, "Lets do it, my dad is an engineer and he can design the deck with blueprints and everything".  I went to the client and talked him into giving us the job and he agreed after I told him that his deck was going to be designed by an engineer and he wasn't going to be charged for the engineering work.

 

So I am sitting with my dad in his home office and I give him the scale, the measurements and the elevation of the hill and he sat there and designed the concrete deck and the pump house that was going to be under it with his T-Square and little drawing board. He designed all of the plywood forms that we needed to build and explained to me why rebar sits at certain levels in the concrete and how to criss cross it for strength and how to tie it all together with steel wire. I sat there and nodded my head and said that I understood and took off with the plans.

 

My friend and I did build the deck for this guy and my favorite part was working with the rebar. Cutting it, bending it  and tying it all together with tie wire. I looked at the rebar work that i had done and thought, "That is really cool looking". The next day we hired a concrete pumper and a truck full of concrete and we filled that entire suspended deck with concrete and all I could think was, "Dad, you better be right on the plywood forms".  It was really frightening but the forms held and we massaged and scored the concrete into a perfect deck. 

 

We didn't take out any permits on the job so the homeowner videotaped us the entire time asking questions about why we were doing this and that and he kept asking very loudly, "Your dad is an engineer and he designed this deck, correct?". At the end of that day I gave the client the working drawings and a week later after we pulled the forms the guy tried to burn two 20 year olds on the payment, it didn't work. Another story...

 

35 years after that experience I am now building figures and faces out of that same steel tie wire. Below are some of the projects and pieces that I have created in the medium.

This was my first wire piece, I hacked it out as an experiment to see if the medium had any potential for me. It is based around a wire head that I made years ago that is displayed in our livingroom. It is a little rough using a single wire strand. The day that I made it I posted it on Facebook and folks really liked it. I am a fan of crowdsourcing and the instantaneous interest was a green light.
Couple#253 | Annealed Wire | 18" x 23" x 4" | 2013 | sold
After the Facebook greenlight I went into an inspired frenzy making a bunch of pieces. The work that I was making was for my solo show and the opening was in a few weeks. I couldn't sell any of the pieces directly but I landed this commission that week and made it during that week, you gotta keep everybody happy. This is when I started mechanically braiding the wire to get heavier lines. I was looking for heavier lines and had no idea that the braided wire made contouring that much easier and the result, elegant.
Couple #275 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 39" x 8" | 2013 | Private Commission
It was really fun showing these new wire works that were so much fun to make. Big thanks out to all of our friends who came out in the rain for my first Bay Area show.
Couple #260 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 44" x 10" | 2013 | In the collection of Adam McCauley and Cynthia Wigginton 
Even with my new wire sculptures my show wasn't carrying the weight that it needed. My wife and artist Gwyn Stramler who doesn't beat around the bush said, "You need a big painting to anchor the show". This is the kind of advice that you don't want to hear so close to delivering a show but ok, you need to hear it. I made this painting and with such little time my  only choice was to take an earlier painting and enlarge it to 4 feet square and paint it out. I took out the time that it would have taken me to design a large piece and replaced that with pure paint labor. It was a nice anchor piece for the show and a good call.
The family #275 | Oil on Birch Panel | 48" x 48" | 2013 | Available
The week after the opening of my show I had sent out a newsletter talking about my new work and one of my collectors wrote me back and asked, "Do you think that your new wire stuff could work as a large scale installation in an executive apartment?" . This was the email that you want to get. The next day I was at his house trying to sell him on my plan for two 9' figures embraced and suspended by aircraft cables from a 24' vaulted ceiling. My working drawings were going to be crucial in selling the concept so I spent a lot of time on them and also printed them out on graph paper to show him how I would scale the work up. Knowing that the piece was going to be so high from view I took some time to mechanically braid 3,4 and 5 strands of steel wire for examples of different line weight that I could use on the piece so portions of the contours could pop against lighter linework. 
I took the commission and during the construction timing was not so hot for me and I needed to move my studio. I took the torsos to the client site that was still an unfinished apartment and locked them into a giant closet. Since I hadn't finished the heads I made maquettes for the general shapes of the heads, I would then finish them in my new studio. Working on the heads without the torsos was really difficult and it added a lot of artistic doubt and extra stress even with my cardboard templates.
Here are my head sculptures, I left lots of neck so I could attach them to their bodies and adjust the neck lenghts. My client had a sense of humor and he called me one day and said, "Did you read about the mafia hit that happened at the building?", I say, "No!" and he says, "Yeah, cops found two decapitated torsos in a closet, by the way, when are you going to finish these creatures?". He kept calling them creatures until I attached the heads. He was really funny and made the entire process from start to finish a good experience.
Couple #282 | Braided Annealed Wire | 108" x 39" x 36" | 2014 | Private Commission This sculpture is hanging in an executive apartment up in a 24' vaulted ceiling and the bottom of the sculpture is 9' off of the floor. Custom lighting completes the scene spraying figurative shadows all over the walls. Looking at this picture with a bit of distance I cannot believe that I look so happy, that was a brutal day, it had to be installed and photographed and I had been working since daybreak, you can see that the cabling on the support structure was still getting dialed in. This beast didn't behave and it was really challenging to make it hang correctly.
A few weeks after the closing of my show Visit California, the tourism board invited Travel Channel host Kevin Cullen, "The Motorhead Traveler" to come and do a motoring/food and art program in Northern California. On this episode "The Motorhead Traveler" experiences the AUDI R8 racing school at Sonoma Raceway and Alice Waters cooking school, "Kitchen on Fire" in Berkeley and Visit Oakland put a call out to all of the galleries for art proposals and we landed it. In 7 hours I showed Kevin how to mechanically braid steel wire and we built his self portrait together and even put a little motor in his head. This episode should be out in a few months on American Real-Adventure Television on MavTV, Travellandscape in Canada, Nuvolari.tv in Italy and FirstHDTV and Hightv.tv in 3D in Russia and China. 
A few screen shots from the "Visit Oakland" episode airing on American-Real Adventure on MavTV. I had just finished braiding a bunch of wire but I should have washed my hands before the intro. Shown in the top photo is the cardboard maquette head that I made before the show to use as a template for Kevin's portrait. I built a custom cardboard crate for shipping and the machete was used both for proportions and to keep us on track for a perfect fit for shipping of the final sculpture.
I was really pleased to hear that this piece has been selected by the Crocker art museum to be included in their 2014 art auction. Thank you,  Crocker!
Couple #276 | Braided Annealed Wire | 17" x 38" x 8" | 2013
This work has now come full circle with a big thanks to Smithsonian Magazine for commissioning my first wire sculpture assemblage as an Illustration for an interesting article on PTSD and memory. Shown is a picture of Michael Llewellyn shooting the final artwork and a small cropped section of the art.
Braided Annealed Wire, Monotypes with painted background | 2014
Connections | Oakland
posted:
Couple #260 | Annealed Wire | 17"x 44"x10" | 2013
 

In a few weeks my solo show opens at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland, CA. The gallery is fairly new to the Oakland scene but within this short time they have mounted some ambitious shows. The current show, "Indisputable Still Life" exhibits works by David Kimball Anderson, Richard Shaw with John Waters and others. The previous show, "A Trapped in your Mind Feeling" was curated by Lucy Puls in conjunction with the very cool and experimental Aggregate Space Gallery, just across the street. 

 

We are all searching and looking for a door to open for all of us and my career has been nothing but challenging since 2009 and despite that I have worked non stop in the trenches looking for a break either in the Applied Arts or the Fine Arts. My entire artistic career has been built  around whatever external interest that can be brought to my work. Illustration, art education, art shows, commissions… heck, if you like the way that I chop wood I'd come over and chop your stack of wood.  I try to connect.

 

On Friday the gallery folks traveled all the way up from the bay to my foothill studio to select the works that will make up this show and also requested some additional works in the final hours that now need to be made. It was the first time in my career that my work was reviewed in such a professional and academic way, it was so much fun for me and I love this art thing when it is going in your direction.

 

Here's to finding new doors and keeping all and every other door open.

 

Super thanks to Ruth Santee and Cameron Brian for this opportunity and also for being very nice and cool folks.

 

*below is a sample of some of the works that will be shown.

Couple #261 | Annealed Wire | 24"x30"x4" | 2013
Couple #253 | Annealed Wire | 18"x23"x4" | 2013
"Connections" 4'x4' on Birch panel in progress. This is my centerpiece, all of the other works will radiate out from it.
The Transmission Gallery did a 250 Micro Letterpress print run of these 2 side images from an original linocut that I made as a promotional teaser for the show. That was very cool and another aspect of their artistic support for my work that was really appreciated.
Couple #240

Couple #237

Man #224
Woman #223
"The Alter Ego" Shipping in December is this piece that was selected for the Winter 2013 issue of Studio Visit Magazine who also publishes New American Paintings. Super big thanks out to juror, Barbara O'Brien Executive Director of the Kemper Museum for selecting my work for Studio Visit Magazine. studiovisitmagazine.com

"Connections" with some final details. Please look for my artist interview and profile in the January 2014 issue of Adorno Magazine. photo michaelllewellyn.com
Richard Downs | Connections | Solo Show

Curated by Ruth Santee and Cameron Brian

When:
December 6, 2013 - Opening 6-9pm  
Exhibit December 6 - January 18, 2014

Where:
Transmission Gallery
770 West Grand Avenue
Oakland, California
thetransmissiongallery.com
oaklandartmurmur.org
 
wire sculpture photographs:  michaelllewellyn.com
Ghosts
posted:
This was a fun and spooky assignment for OnEarth Magazine. OnEarth is an environmental magazine described as a survival guide for the planet and published by The Natural Resources Defense Council and fabulously designed by Gail Ghezzi Design.
 
 
This essay was about a haunted lighthouse on the Northern California coast that was experienced during a west coast super storm and written by the daughter of one of the supposed ghosts!
 
 
"It was no small feat. My mother, with stage-four Parkinson’s, climbed 146 narrow steps to the lantern of the Point Arena lighthouse, her feet trembling to find one spiral stair step after another.
Three years after Mom’s death, the lighthouse keeper at Point Arena read an essay I’d published about my mother’s climb, emailed me, and said the mystery was solved. The ghost she’d been seeing in the lantern room, picking wildflowers, and hanging out at the gazebo, was my mom.
    I’m not a believer in ghosts. But I’ve always wanted to live in a lighthouse. So when the Keeper needed a vacation and hired me to take over lighthouse responsibilities for a month, I said yes."

 
 
A pretty engaging introduction for an illustration and for this assignment Gail selected the final art to look like work from my Inky Style.
 
 
Thanks Gail for the fun!
 

 
Gail selected samples from my Inky Style that she really liked.
Point Arena Lighthouse on the Mendocino Coast. It's haunted!
My sketches.
New Monotypes
posted:
This show is part of oaklandartmurmur.org and the gallery asked me to create a mini linocut print 2x3" for some pre promotion. I proofed it on some scrap paper and sent off the plate, it could become a letterpress card or a large unnumbered edition on paper that will go out next month in art murmur goody bags.
 

Here are some new Monotypes that I just finished as part of a commission and part of just getting some new work done. They are all in small format and created in one long day in the studio. These were created in part to get warmed up to start some new work for my upcoming Solo show at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland CA. Curators Ruth Santee and Cameron Brian have selected my ongoing "Couples" series for this exhibit so the Dragonflies in this set will not be part of the show. If you are in the East Bay go check out the current show at Transmission, "INDISPUTABLE STILL LIFE".  This show looks really good. My show at the space opens next,  it's time to push my game. Here are some of the details.

 

Richard Downs | Solo Show

Curated by Cameron Brian and Ruth Santee

When:

December 6, 2013 - Opening 6-9pm  

Exhibit December 6 - January 18, 2014

Where:

Transmission Gallery

770 West Grand Avenue

Oakland, California

thetransmissiongallery.com

oaklandartmurmur.org

 

 

 

Proofing the mini print.
Couple #254 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Couple #255 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Couple #256 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Couple #257 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Couple #258 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Couple #259 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013
Dragonfly #12 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013 | sold
Dragonfly #14 | Monotype | 5" x 7" image area 9" x 10" sheet size | Oil on handmade Japanese Paper | 2013 | sold
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