former Contributing Critic for Art in America and Art News, February 2003
Nicholas Down’s oil and gesso on panels strike such a sonorous note between the cosmological and the terrestrial, between sea and land, sky and water, that it’s extremely hard to resist their seductive—well, charm, in the old, magical sense of the word, is one term for it.
Ocean, Ocean poses a conundrum: but for three streaks of white, the painting is all blue, a deeply marine shade of same – are we looking at blue-on-blue, white on white-on-white, or rotating variations of these basics?
Whatever the specificities, Down’s canvases are, in that currently popular word, awesome, especially in Night Sky Mirrored 2000. The board is stroked easily and mysteriously with purples, whites, and a shock of carmine; there is texture here, in the white gesso, especially, but not so much that the all-over numinosity of the piece is offset by any untoward grittiness.
Down’s subject matters of late have veered from the sublime to the more organically psychic, as in 2002’s The Alchemist and Nesting the Feminine from the same year. The Alchemist is a fantasia in pastels – roses, reds, aquas, and mauves, these shades gracing the curvilinear appurtenances of the alchemist’s craft. Nesting the Feminine offers an abstract reading of the nude feminine body, vulnerable, voluptuous, bespeaking the aesthetic in the erotic and vice versa. Whether dealing with the natural or human nature, Down is a master of, that word again, the awesome: temporal, or dreamed.