A flash of light fills your vision, a skittering of colors that reverberate like seismic waves, erupting shapes and surfaces. Unearthing textures. Brushstrokes of paint lay visible against wood, creating layer upon layer of movement that alludes toward action and dimension. Mountains reveal crags and nooks and caps of snow. The earth stands out a mossy green or the sun-burnt orange of sand. Each visible landscape appears obvious with its reference to the awe-evoking nature of the natural world, of grand mountains and visions that are anything but manmade. But each image also lays way to abstraction, dissecting modes of seeing and alluding to shapes and familiarities, careful to not include minute or figurative details in favor of more vague, expressive mark-making. What’s left is a room of color, of unique style and distinct intent. Each painting is an acknowledgement of what is seen or being depicted, paired with the stubborn insistence of revealing such sights through the eyes and memories of the artist.
“I feel a powerful urgency to reveal so much that is ‘out there,’” the artist writes of his work, “but which is refracted and altered by the inner world of memory and recollection.”
The paintings that are being referred to here are those of artist Nicholas Down, whose show of work, entitled The Treasures of Wilderness, is on display in the Community Art Partnership’s ArtSpace (attached to Center Ithaca’s Visitor Center) through the end of April. Inspired by various National Parks and the wilderness, Down also lauds the works of such naturalist writers as John Muir and Edward Abbey as inspiration behind his creations.
“At a time when these sanctuaries are increasingly threatened,” Down remarks of the natural lands, “it is my artistic intention to raise awareness of their beauty and to inspire the viewer to see that such places are, indeed, treasures to be cherished.”
Each of the ten paintings included in the show are indeed love letters to nature and its inherent grandeur. In most, mountains are depicted under a stormy or colorful sky. Each layer of paint that is added or chipped away provides its own level of vibrancy and contributes to the textural quality of the collection as a whole, wherein paint erupts from each two-dimensional scene, beckoning viewers to acknowledge its (the medium’s) presence in physical space.
In One Endless Form into the Other, blue mountains stand epically behind a green and purple landscape, the colors varying in shades as they move across the image. One stroke of bright pink paint cuts horizontally through the scene: an added boost of brightness.
Fierce Spring is beautifully done, as a majestic purple sky overlooks what could be desert floor
that’s illuminated in many areas (near glowing) by setting or rising sun. The painting is captivating and the perfect shades of yellow and orange contribute toward an inner warmth.
Primavera is the brightest of the paintings with active strokes of a deep blue, and in Sacred Renewal, green and aqua drip together topped by surprising and sensible flicks of orange.
Falling Water, a painting of a waterfall with a strong white stream, is smartly placed alongside another work entitled Meltaway. The latter depicts a white flood, the water textural and haphazard in its forward flow, enveloped or channeled between landmasses that jut out and are highlighted by astutely made marks.
Overall, Nicholas Down’s work is better seen in person than described. Even photographs of the work, such as the one included with this article, do not wholly present the dimensions of each painting, in particular the textures. The pieces are abstract in many ways, but slowly too begin to figures that are identifiable in context, like the slowly recovered shapes of a remembered experience.