interview: downs [Michi Meko]
For some reason I continually need a project to work on. I need a lot happening all at once, preferably different mediums and projects. As a creative I enjoy these Gumbos of Polyrthythmic syncopations in my studio practice. It’s like a normal 4 : 3 polyrhythm, but each part of my practice is shifted in time by half a beat blah blah blah to create this syncopated feel. Really, I’m just off beat on beat.
Lately I have been really curious about how artists speak with artist and exchange information. I have decided to follow through on my ideas and impulses. I wanted to create intimate conversations in a digital format with hyperlinks as interactive participation elements (to clue readers in or throw them off) to involve them in the conversation as they read along. Hopefully there are new discoveries and different ways to think about the work.
The first conversation is with artist, friend and secret society member William Downs.
MM: I would like to open with a typical sort of generic question and take some time to ask you about your earliest memories of making work and how those early discoveries set you up to be William Downs the Artist?
WD: Two forms of art developed me as a child --music and art. As a young baby artist, I drew all over everything that could be drawn on...My (my mom’s mom) grandmother would bring the church to their knees when she would sing any song. And then Prince... His life and music taught me that you could be anything other than human. From both musicians I felt the music deep in my soul and that is/was translated in my imagination into images that fascinated me. I loved being in my brain or imagination.
MM: What is your relationship to surface?
WD: Everything. Surface holds every line that I layer.
MM: Specifically, what is the interest or investigation with discarded paper materials?
WD: Discarded paper usually has some evidence of someone's history. In some way I'm collaborating with the printmaker, the one who printed text or imagery on the page. My graffiti is the last layer drawn on that surface.
MM: Being one who uses found objects for sculptural works, I have a system for gathering, I'm curious about how you discover your paper materials. Is there a process or system of consideration?
WD: When you are an observer of behavior, things come to you. I think the process is just being curious and open to how everything in life works, like the body or the brain. My old roommate Jessie Cregar and I would draw on napkins together at a bar or restaurant. After eating, drawing and drinking, we would leave a few drawings for the person who was watching or curious about our drawing session. That session became our way of communicating and community. It started a closeness with our friends, and that started our collective called the baker’s dozen.
MM: Is there a moment when it all clicked?
WD: I think it clicks every time I walk into the studio, I find something new and run with it good or bad. In the moment of being free and spontaneous, one finds something magical, you can't force it.
MM: I see the work and it’s aggressive mark approach, but there is also a sense of the sensual, something sexual and brutal happening at once. Can you speak to these qualities?
WD: Since my work relies on feelings and expression, my goal is to be balanced with the light and dark. The drawings are a record of a moment, sexually or spiritually.
MM: Often we speak about the patina in conversation -- which I came to understand through our friend and artist Felandus Thames . Can you elaborate on the patina without actually giving too much of the theory away, but still in the context of Ham hocks in Corn Flakes?
WD: Ink wash is my patina at the moment. It has it’s own free mind. My ass just follows it.
MM: As you know, I like a good story. In our conversations you always seem to have a wild story and interactions about or with (what some would consider) a famous artist. Can you explain how this came to be? Or share one of these stories?
WD: Mmmmmmm...When I met David Hammons I was installing a very complicated work in a store- front gallery in DUMBO. For one week every night, I pinned small pieces of torn tar paper on the wall in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge. In a way it was a performance because every night I had a few spectators; they would watch me as they walked their dog or on the way to somewhere. But there was one man who came by every night at the same time. Whenever I made eye contact with him he would give me a nod of approval as if he understood my process and goal of the piece. At the end of the week, he came up to me as I was looking at the wall drawing from the outside. This tall, slider dapper man came up to me and introduced himself with a big smile -- David. Then he said “GREAT PIECE and I like it"! So later I told a friend, and she said David as in David Hammons???
MM:You have recently been on a roll with exhibitions like Black Pulp at Yale and the recent show at the University of Alabama. Can you explain how these experiences have shaped your thought and are pushing the works into new directions?
WD: As I update my CV I forget the level of shows that I've been a part of. In the 1999 Nexus bi-annual I had the honor of showing with some of Atlanta’s gifted artists. Larry Walker was one of those artists. But I think since I've been so active in the art world, the work keeps being discovered.
MM:With the way you present work -- like the complete coverage of galleries, attention to specific groupings --would you consider these hangings sculptural?
WD: Yes and No. No because they are made like songs. And yes, they are like sculpture when they cover walls like a quilt of paper. Since I don't edit, I let the good and the bad drawings hang together. Oh, so you asked me earlier about clicking… Well, one night in the studio I was listening to an interview with a choir conductor. The interviewer asked, why is gospel music so GOOD! And the conductor said, “Because we let everyone sing in the choir. We don't exclude anyone who wants to sing.” When I heard that, I looked around and said to the drawings, did you guys hear that?! Then I thought, I wish the world could be like this!
MM:In one sentence can you answer the question: What is the mission here?
WD: The mission is to be a lifer in the art world.
MM: If I brought up bicycles, and we consider their history, could you make a connection to how the bicycle has informed or influenced your studio practice.
WD: It's simple...On the bike you’re totally free and fully aware of the space and nature you are moving through. In a car your miss everything.
Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Downs works in a range of mediums, but focuses primarily on drawing. He received a Multidisciplinary MFA from the Mount. Royal School of Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore and a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art and Design. Downs taught Foundation Drawing at the Maryland Institute College of Art from 2002 through 2010. He taught Advanced Drawing at Parsons The New School for Design, Foundation Drawing at The Cooper Union and Tulane University. His work has been presented at numerous venues in the United States and abroad. Downs work was shown by Moti Haasn Gallery 2007-2009, Slag Gallery 2009-2010, both New York Galleries and Parker Jones Gallery in LA 2009-2010.Recently his works were apart of “Monster Drawing” at the High Museum of Art, “On Paper” at Field Work Gallery in Pittsburgh PA curated by Ayanah Moor. Furthermore, he will be apart of a drawing symposium at Carnegie Mellon University in March 2014.
In the year 2015 his work has been displayed in many Group Exhibitions such as Sprawl! Drawing Outside the Lines at the High Museum of Art, Drawing Experiment at the Chastain Arts Center, Summer Salon at the Sandler Hudson Gallery, Monster Drawing Rally at the High Museum, and “Bewareness” at the Tempus Projects. He has participated in a symposia and panel discussions at Moderator for artist talk with Ryan Coleman at the Sandler Hudson Gallery, Moderator for artist talk with Michi Miko at the Alan Avery Gallery, and Moderator for Transformation at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Juried Exhibition, all located in Atlanta, GA. He also contributed as a Juror for Transformation at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Juried Exhibition.
He is currently a Lecture in Drawing and Painting at Georgia State University and represented by Sandler Hudson Gallery.
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