Profile: Nancy Downes

Through her installation, painting and sculpture work, Nancy Downes explores the complex psychological, emotional and physical layers that make us human beings.

Downes uses tactile materials such as fabric, Perspex, rope, paint and liquid, and combines them with elements of light and space to portray ideas of self.

“In the last few years I have been looking at the self as a register of affect,” Downes says.

“It’s about the magnitude of realising and accepting that we are made up of these complex layers – psychological, emotional and physical. All of these things remembered in this one body.”

Downes originally studied at the Sydney College of the Arts before embarking on a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of South Australia. Downes then took some time out to raise a family, returning to study in 2013, completing a Graduate Diploma in Art and Design at UniSA and Honours at the Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA) in 2015.

Since graduating, Downes has been involved in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and in 2015 she received the Tracey Whiting Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Bachelor of Visual Art (Hons).

Most recently she received a grant through ACSA’s Graduate Support Program which will help fund a month-long residency in Japan in the mountainous area of Yamanashi in 2017.

“This is my first overseas residency, so I really wanted that time of contemplation.”

Recently, Downes has been collaborating with fellow ACSA artist Lucy Turnbull. They teamed up earlier this year for the ACSA exhibition Art Work, where artists worked in the gallery and responded to site, audience and each other.

Nancy Downes + Lucy Turnbull, Point of Navigation, 2016 – Lara Merrington Photography

They collaborated again during SALA for an exhibition at Praxis Artspace, Second Stretch, and a mural for SALA in the Square (Victoria Square). They produced a mural on the outside of a shipping container as well as some works inside.

“It was perfect to explore the idea of magnitude because it was right at the helm of the square. As you drove down King William Street you could see this thing approaching. It was a big mountainous structure,” Downes says.

While Turnbull is currently in New York and Downes is about to embark on her first overseas residency, the artists are still in constant communication and will no doubt collaborate again in the future.

Nancy Downes, Untitled(genesis), 2015
James Field Photography, courtesy of Adelaide Central School of Art

In the meantime, Downes is embarking on a number of solo exhibitions interstate for the first half of 2017. In February she is showing at SEVENTH Gallery in Melbourne, followed by Paper Mountain Gallery in Perth and M16 Gallery in Canberra. She will also be involved in a group show with Tara O’Connell at Kings ARI, Melbourne, before heading to Japan in July.

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