Michael Downs - China works

Downs has always worked in a non-rectilinear format; his paintings burst out of their frame over thirty years ago and have never gone back. ‘Energies’ in a landscape have been a source of fascination for him. Over the years these have varied from heavy, sculptural paintings which took geology and physical geography as their starting point to a long series which tried to manifest the sounds which fill the spaces between objects in a landscape. The ‘air’ is not dead; it is seething with noise, electronic signals, winds, pollutants and, if you can overcome all that, an occasional birdsong.
In recent times, Downs has spent considerable time working in Beijing and his work attempts to come to terms with the astonishing energies of a city and a country which is in a vortex of activity. A day in Beijing is a day without an anchorage or a moment of stasis. Millions of people are moving along 18 lane ring roads amongst a landscape which alternates 80 floor skyscrapers and garbage strewn hutongs, and the swirl of noise, pollution and constant movement is a extreme sensory challenge.
A phenomenon which has long informed Downs’s work is the collision between the ‘Euclidian’ nature of our architectural environment (right angles, perfect verticals and horizontals etc) and the Fractal aspects of nature (where dimensions may be 1.8 or 2.4 as opposed to a strict one, two or three). In one sense the Euclidean/Fractal dissonance can be seen as a metaphor for the current political and environmental state of China. Although the government attempts to establish ‘order’ amongst one and a half billion people and direct another Great Leap Forward, there are many tensions and contradictions. Too many non-linear systems are in motion to guarantee a predictable outcome. This sense of tension has informed Downs’s new work as quite radical disturbances of ‘settled’ rectilinearity caused the composition to break out in unpredictable ways.

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