Monday, April 13, 2009

One’s Trash, Another’s Treasure

[“Now Letting Go Installation, 2007-2008,” 49 pieces, mixed media on manila folders, William Downs]

Well-known for his infiltration and occupation of spaces with narratives deriving from a particular interpretation of automatic drawing, William Downs sits down with a stack of paper and makes one drawing after another until a theme emerges. This modus operandi is accompanied by use of “found paper” such as masses of old library cards or piles of obsolete forms from some forgotten corner—or “paper that has a history of its own” as he puts it. To this “history” Downs adds some of his own.

Use of manila folders is interesting on many levels: Used to contain and transport information, they are ubiquitous to the nine-to-five corporate and bureaucratic worlds. Yet, with information digitized they are often cast off if not reused. Further they were derived from material coming from a former U.S. colony. Downs has unleashed found manila folders in “A World I Never Made,” his solo exhibition at New York’s Slag Gallery through May 9.

Downs has brought his process a step further through his interest in and use of “minimal” materials such as ink wash, charcoal, grease, lead and ebony pencils, and chalk in “Now Letting Go,” an immediate collection of black and white drawings hung in a grid that can be viewed individually or in total. Like the folders used by Downs as a support medium, these minimal materials would be easy for him to transport between New York and Baltimore (where he teaches drawing at the Maryland Institute College of Art).

Tellingly, Downs shared his creative ideas and process with 15 high school age arts apprentices. Together, they collected paper, old books, magazines, and typewriters and experimented with collage, paint, ink, and various drawing tools. Their outcome: an assembled combination of various images and text through which a personal narrative was expressed. Collectively, the individual narratives became a multifaceted gallery installation. Presto!

Raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Downs lives and works in New York City. His past exhibitions have consisted of hundreds of small drawings installed in chapters or as multiple vignettes: a personal take on a storytelling tradition for which the South is known. While often playful, his subjects can veer to the dark side. Though clumsy, Downs' drawings are reminiscent of brief songs and verses calling forth fears, memories, fantasies, travels, and death.

Process is primary in “A World I Never Made,” bringing the viewer into the very act of creation. As with Downs’ work, where that creation leads is another matter. Regardless of destination, he brings the viewer across varying landscapes and terrains, both imaginary and psychological. Furthermore, this installation is interesting in terms of the gallery’s name and purpose: Slag is an industrial waste product that is highly recyclable. What may be worthless in one context (such as cast off manila folders and forms) has meaning and life in another.

A World I Never Made by William Downs

through May 9, 2009

Slag Gallery

531 West 25th Street, NYC 10001

No comments: