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The Art of Mapping exhibition presents major works painted by Spelman Evans Downer over the last twenty-five years. The show features curated selections from Mr. Downer’s long career and highlights many paintings from his two largest series depicting aerial compositions from the East and West Coasts. These aerial view, map-like artworks combine painting with drawing, and are prime examples of the artist’s signature style. Mr. Downer’s approach is an unusual blend of photorealism (the use of photographs and projected images) and the gestural paint handling of Abstract Expressionism. These influences, combined with the artist’s fascination with place, has led the artist to employ aerial compositions to show the interrelationships of environments, the inherent geometry of geographies and geologies, the imprint of urban areas on nature, and histories of land use. Finished works depict a portrait of place in time, and most titles include their date of creation, implying that places continually evolve. It is interesting to note that all the works from the 1980s and 1990s were made before aerial photographs and satellite images were easily available online. At that time the artist went through a laborious process of getting source images from the US Geological Survey. The wide spread use of online search engines such as Google Earth have increased appreciation for the artist’s pioneering works.
The exhibit also features many Southern California compositions, including examples of works from the 1980s, the 1990s, and new works painted recently since the artist returned to Southern California in 2001 to live in the Mojave Desert in Yucca Valley. Mr. Downer is a native Southern Californian, growing up in Pasadena and later living part-time in Newport Beach. Fascination with the Los Angeles Basin and especially the cordillera of mountains known as the Transverse Ranges figure prominently in the artist’s inspiration, and this geography is now the focus of the artist’s new paintings. The new works investigate the Transverse Ranges, showing the numerous east and west trending mountains that run from the desert to the coast which delineate this unique geography along the West Coast.
Video of opening reception interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwYVYpzMGEQ
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