Monday, 4 March 2013

Artist Uncovered: Kate Downie

Two large canvasses face each other in Kate Downie’s studio, their typically energetic and expressive marks awaiting her finishing touch before their exhibition this summer at the Royal Scottish Academy. One is a reconstructed view of Beijing where she did a residency in 2011, eagerly immersing herself in the street life of the city, and the other is a sweeping and empty landscape. Despite or rather because of the absence of human forms, the juxtaposition of the dark monolithic cityscape with the depopulated countryside is characteristic of Downie’s sensibility for the human condition.

Kate Downie in her studio

She recalls vividly deciding to be an artist at the age of five, she was better at drawing than reading, and credits her later outsider’s aesthetics to being uprooted, aged seven, by her British born parents from her native North Carolina to the North East coast of Scotland.
Another clear childhood memory is her first sighting of the Forth Rail Bridge from the train down to Edinburgh. The iconic structure is a particular favourite of hers. She once set up studio on Inchgarvie island, right under the bridge, in a structure made out of scaffolding poles . She has sailed under it and today she is thrilled at the thought of abseiling off it during the sponsored event organised by Art in Healthcare in May! Kate Downie’s enjoyment of life is evident and so is her inquiring mind as she sketches on her newly acquired iPad while we talk. Drawing is second nature to her.
The Concrete Hour, wall drawing, mixed media,
Where, Where Artspace, Beijing
Image courtesy of the artist

This residency on the island led to a wall installation in the Round Room of the Talbot Rice Gallery. Performances and wall drawings occupy a special place in her practice. She adds almost with a pinch of regret that in different circumstances she would have been a graffiti artist. While in Beijing, she drew a cityscape, ‘The Concrete Hour’, on the walls of the gallery dominated by flyovers where she was based and punctuated her charcoal drawing with marks made with bicycle tyres and shoes. She is looking forward to doing a performative drawing this summer in the Kelly Gallery in Glasgow which, incidentally, is only a ten minutes walk from the city’s own Chinatown, itself situated under the M8 motorway as it slices through Glasgow.
Kate Downie has more than a penchant for the liminal and the transgressive. Coastlines, crossroads, flyovers, bridges, the gaps in between, all are transient spaces that she actively seeks out and celebrates with Romantic sensitivity.

Leidseplein (Night Travels), monoprint, 63 x 74cm
Art in Healthcare Collection

Her drawings and paintings are not simply triggered by visual stimuli here and there, they come from deep within. They are conceptual portraits. Each has its own place among the others and can take anything between a few weeks and several months to gestate. Her compositions emphasize the space around objects or ‘negative space’, a term she regards as a misnomer because these optical reversals bring about new awareness for our surroundings.
She mentions Rachel Whiteread’s ‘House’ where that artist created an inside-out domestic space by casting the whole interior of a house. Like Downie’s works, Whiteread’s sculptures are about the memory of the people who inhabited the space but unlike Whiteread, Downie invites, urges us the viewers to step in and complete her drawings and paintings.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a visual artist and freelance writer based in Edinburgh.

See for short video of Kate's Downie interview!

Thank you to Kate Downie for her time and input and for her warm welcome.
To find out about Kate Downie's abseil fundraising event for Art in Healthcare, go to
Kate Downie’s website and online gallery 
The Royal Scottish Academy where her exhibition ‘Walk through a resonant landscape’ will run from August to October 2013
The Royal Glasgow Institute Kelly Gallery where she will install and perform this summer.
Where Where Art Space, Beijing   

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