Richard Downs
Xotie | Monotype | 12" x 15" | 2014

A year or so ago we had the complete fun of caring for a miniature donkey for a few months. His name was Cisco but I called him Johnny and he was hilarious.  When he saw me he would pump up his bellows and let out a hee-haw that would start with a blast of enthusiasm and then drag on and on and end with a sad groan.  He always got a carrot for his little performance. After Johnny moved to his permanent home over the hill I could still hear him busking for a carrot.


I find a lot of artistic joy when I get the opportunity to draw a family pet. My regular drawing style gets tossed out on a pet portrait and my main goal becomes expressing that pet not in facsimile but with as much accuracy as I can muster. 


I created this Monotype for one of my clients of her beloved miniature donkey, Xotie. He gets his name from Don Quixote! I was told some stories about Xotie and he sounded like a really nice guy with a hee-haw that could easilly match Johnnies. 

The Bust
The most incredible and beautiful bust in our worlds history. The bust of Queen Nefertiti, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, ca. 1340 BC. Limestone, gypsum, crystal and wax. Notice that it doesn’t sit on a plinth.

The human Bust through art history has always been an object that I never really cared for even though all of them were rare artifacts and works of historical importance that I have viewed at a museum or in a art history class or in a book.


I think what really bothered me about the historical bust that emerged years after the reinaissance was the artist tradition of making a piece that could be viewed with a little bit of height but to do this they had to place the real art on a plinth and every artist tried their best to incorporate the plinth into the design of their bust. A plinth is an architectural element that it is used in buildings as decoration but at the same time as part of the structure. No matter how nicely designed on a bust it never seemed to relate or connect gracefully to a floating torso IMHO.

The most odd bust in our worlds history. Napoléon II Baby bust. Alexandre Brachard (1775-1843) et Jean-Jacques Oger (1761-1821) d'après Henri-Joseph Rutxiel (1775-1837). Notice that it sits on a plinth.

My personal work has been pushing toward more steel wire sculpture and recently I made a nice connection with Timothy Tew the owner of TEW Galleries in Atlanta. Timothy and I had some conversations about what I do and why I do it and how my work might fit with his other artists and gallery and it was refreshing and new for me to be challenged to explain my point of view with him. Some time had past and then he called to try my work out with 2 wire heads.


Over this year I have done many wire heads and my approach is to make them iconic and to build them as a simple and graphic cone of a neck with a simple and graphic male or female head attached. With Timothy’s request I used this opportunity to push the portrait to an area of sculpture that I didn’t really like but within that dislike I thought that it might also push myself to make something contemporary and interesting so I tried out the bust.


So I started to google the bust in history and I found out some very cool historical facts. We all know that sculpted heads from classical antiquity are sometimes displayed as busts. Did you know that these busts are often fragments from full-body statues? I had no idea. Many of the busts that survived from classical antiquity were originally created to be inserted into a pre-existing body. These pre-existing bodies were generic blanks and I would imagine that they were made from some natural fiber material that didn't survive time. This has to be the first use of stock art in history.


So I made these 2 pieces for Timothy. I am super happy to now be showing my work in his gallery along side his other artists and I am hopeful for my work to connect with Atlanta. Thank you Timothy and Jules!

Pericles (marble, Roman after a Greek original, ca. 430 BC) This piece was originally inserted into a stock body probably made of wood and then dressed up in fancy clothes. Something that we don’t think about when we view these antiquities is that most were hand painted during their time. They are so old that the paint is long gone.
Man #290 | Braided Steel Wire | 17" Wide x 22.5" Tall x 6" Deep | 2014
Man #290 detail | Braided Steel Wire | 17" Wide x 22.5" Tall x 6" Deep | 2014
Woman #291 | Braided Steel Wire | 15.5” Wide x 22 Tall x 5.25” Deep | 2014
Woman #291 detail | Braided Steel Wire | 15.5” Wide x 22 Tall x 5.25” Deep | 2014

Early this year I was invited by Barry Fitzgerald to come out to The University of Kansas and speak to the School of Architecture, Design & Planning and the following day to do an illustration workshop for the Illustration Program. Barry ensured me that the hall would be packed because the lecture series is a required course so that was a relief but he also mentioned that if there was a Jawhawks game happening that night there would be a lot of unhappy and fidgety students out in the audience.


It was a fun night as I talked about my career highs and lows as I tried to deliver a message about self determination in the arts when at times things aren’t going your way including discouragement from education, the economy and with all of that going on the ultimate need to grow as an artist.


After the lecture I talked with some interested students and had the pleasure to meet my friend Susan Younger, Creative Director of the KU Alumni Association. Susan mentioned that she was going to come and take my workshop the next day. The next day during the workshop Susan started asking me questions about specific events in my career and said that she was going to pitch an article on my work to UCDA the University & College Designers Association. After the workshop Susan and I talked about our mutual love for the animal world including growing up in families that allowed the kids to have strange pets like snakes, turtles, amphibians and farm animals. 


What looked like a long shot ended up getting published in the Summer 2014 issue of Designer Magazine.


A super big thanks out to Susan Younger for her work to put the article together and get it published and to Creative Director Tadson Bussey for his design work and to Barry for the invitation to visit KU.


All images | Richard Downs © 2014 | © 2014 Designer Magazine Summer 2014 Vol. 39, No. 2

Courtesy of the University & College Designers Association

Working in Wire part 4
Couple #289 | Braided Steel Wire | 39” x 17” x 5” | 2014

Here are 2 new Braided Wire Sculptures from my Couples Series. These were both created for the Elizabeth Gordon Gallery in Santa Barbara. These are so much fun to make that I am finding it hard to stop. They are also so light that they ship really easily and I build my crates/boxes out of recycled appliance boxes that I get from a Sears outlet up here. I have included some production shots of the work in progress.

All of these pieces start with cardboard templates. I start with drawing the contour of the male without arms until the proportions look good and then with the red marker I just made the woman a little smaller. This technique helps the figure proportions work together. I found that trying to draw the figures independently from each other was slow and inaccurate. The wire is so springy that I weigh it down to tie off the main shapes.
The arms are now cut out of cardboard and used as templates once they look good.
Couple #289 detail | Braided Steel Wire | 39” x 17” x 5” | 2014 | The faces are only 5" tall
Couple #289 | Braided Steel Wire | 39” x 17” x 5” | 2014
The piece below,  Couple #288 was inspired after Couple #276 that was selected by the Crocker Art Museum for their 2014 art auction.
Here is my work table while I was building Couple #288. I use gloves when I mechanically braid the wire and sometimes when I am working but I always tape the joints of my index fingers and thumbs with gorilla tape. I learned early on in making these that I was unknowingly thrashing my fingers after one long day of work I went to start my car and just turning the key was painful and it was pretty scary. I started taping the joints and all is good now.
Couple #288. Getting the proportions down in cardboard.
Once I got the woman's head blocked out I checked the fit of the mans head
The mans head before he was surgically installed.
Couple #288 detail | Braided Steel Wire | 38” x 19” x 9” | 2014
Couple #288 | Braided Steel Wire | 38” x 19” x 9” | 2014
All images | Richard Downs © 2014
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