The Concrete Hour: Kate Downie RSA
Where Where Art Space
No 319-1, East End Art Zone A, Caochangdi Village, Beijing
This is an edited version of a feature I wrote on Kate Downie for The Herald Arts section on 26/11/11
Someone commented on Kate's facebook page that her new work was 'so Chinese but so very Kate Downie'. So true. Wonderful work.
|Kate and accomplice take the bike to new levels in the Where Where Art Space|
|Kate Downie in action on the streets of Beijing at her traditional felt table|
It feels strange yet at the same time appropriate that I am conducting my first ever Skype interview with Kate Downie. The normally Edinburgh-based artist is talking to me from her well-appointed apartment in FeijiaCun, an artists’ village to the north of Beijing, where she is currently on a residency until the end of the year.
Webcam at the ready, the ever-energetic Downie gives me a quick laptop tour around her kitchen cum studio, even though it’s nearly 10pm and she’s had a long day, which saw her painting on the walls of the Where Where Art Space in Caochangdi Village that very morning.
She has ink drawings in progress which she is keen for me to see.
As she shows me the drawings and tells me the stories behind them, a white cat which has taken up residence in her apartment even makes an unscheduled appearance. I introduce it to my black dog.
So far, so immediate.
Downie’s trademark is the immediacy of her work, especially her drawing. Stand in front of a Kate Downie drawing and such is the deftness of her touch, you can feel and smell the air around her source material, be it in a campervan in Catterline, in a Noregian sideroad overlooking a fiord, or on a street in Cupar. Lately, she has been mostly standing at a table on a teeming street in Beijing, jammed between a hutong and a high-rise. Drawing with all her might.
Downie’s excitement at having spent the last few weeks creating ink paintings on the streets of Beijing in the traditional Chinese way of working on a felt table, is palpable, despite the shaky webcam image and the thousands of miles which divide us.
The photographs she shows me of her drawing on the streets speak for themselves. In one picture, a tiny Chinese girl stands beside her in a yellow anorak, staring in wonder as Downie works away, lost in the moment. Beside the little girl, a couple of drawing students sketch in tandem, while at the other end of the table, a mother parks her pram to have a better look while her wooly hatted baby wonders what all the fuss is about.
Downie first visited Beijing and Shanghai to study contemporary and traditional ink painting at the end of last year with assistance from the Royal Scottish Academy’s William Gillies Bequest Fund. While there, she forged links with the Red Gate Gallery in Beigao, Beijing and returned on an eight-week long international artist’s residency with them at the beginning of November this year.
It’s been a busy few weeks for Downie, who in the time she has been in China has found time to get out onto the with her felt table, to create in-situ work for a group exhibition with 15 fellow artist village residents, as well as making preparatory drawings for an exhibition she arranged not long after arriving in the city at the end of October.
This exhibition, The Concrete Hour, is based on a similar live drawing performance, Matchmaker, which Downie did last month at the Cupar Arts Festival.
It has been curated by Iona Whittaker, who studied art history in Edinburgh before moving to Beijing to work in the city’s vibrant and burgeoning arts sector. She has factored into the exhibition, two live drawing events which took place last night (Friday 25) and on Thursday night (Thursday 24).
“I have been doing the biggest, bravest drawings of my life,” says Downie. “The idea is that two large-scale drawings with opposing content are created live on the walls of the gallery. A series of my street drawings and the film we made in Cupar will also be on show.
“Think of me spending five days covering a whole white box gallery with a giant 3-D ink drawing and you get the picture!
|Kate in action at the Where Where Art Space|
|Kate with curator Iona Whittaker in the Where Where Art Space, Beijing|
As she talks, it is clear Beijing has gnawed its way into Downie’s psyche. “There is just so much crammed into a small space that it’s hard not to be drawn in. You go from one extreme to another very quickly – the vast skyscrapers on one hand and the cramped hutongs where people live and work on the other.
“It’s such a busy, interesting city. The pace of life is breakneck.”
As with all Downie’s art, she has invested in this new body of work, an excitement which is born out of the moment in which it was created. Watch out for these gems from the east heading west to Downie’s native turf. It will be worth the wait...
|Guomao Bridge by Kate Downie (monoprint)|