Get to Know the Artists: Barbara Downs

May 11, 2017

Get to Know the Artists
Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations

Several of the artists participating in Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations shared their personal histories and thoughts on art and being an artist and responded to the questions below.

Barbara Downs

Abbot, Holmberg, DownsSanta Cruz artist Barbara Downs collaborated on 3+7, the sculpture featured in Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations, with Jamie Abbott and Roy Holmberg (pictured on right). On inspirational trips to the Arboretum, the threesome were intrigued by a eucalyptus grove and started collecting seedpods. A twig with pods and leaves caught their attention and, along with a section of mesh fence, became the “seed” for their creation. The idea that the twig would blow in the wind and be caught by the fence was the genesis of their final sculpture idea.

Downs describes her art: “I work in multiple mediums with little allegiance to specific subject matter, though my bodies of work are conceptually and aesthetically connected. While disassembling and reorganizing the visual information and materials at hand, I investigate themes of containment, confinement, and the protective or aversive shielding of precious internal information. My work involves real and vigorous physical action: scraping, erasing, stitching, nailing, welding. I often paint with large rollers for a broad mark and then scrub and mar the surface. This physicality brings out an ‘object-ness’ in each piece.”

 Down’s artwork, including paintings, drawings, encaustics, and sculpture, has been shown regionally and nationally and is included in the collection of the University of California as well as various corporations and private collections.  View more of Down's art at

artist downsWhat person, place, or event has been a primary influence on your work and why?
There have been so many primary influences over time, especially in terms of an artist that I might be paying attention to at any particular time. I have an abiding appreciation over the years for Mark Rothko, but there have been many others. But in addition to artists, my very first printmaking teacher in college, John Nava at the University of Redlands, was very influential in terms of developing my working methods and studio practices. Although we were doing printmaking, I would credit him with teaching me to not be fearful of process, which led me to also not to fear experimentation...with materials, with subject matter, with ideas.

Adjectives that best describe you as an artist/person: Experimental, changing, introspective.

Adjectives that best describe your work: Varied, expressive, particular.

If you had a personal philosophy/motto, what would it be? I *do* have a personal philosophy: “Throw yourself in front of that train.”  But what does it mean?  Put yourself in the position that something comes along to take you on an unexpected journey. And also “Do whatever it is that you need to do with your life.” Find that thing, or those things, that are calling to you. Let yourself move headlong and without fear into your own unknown future.

  a chair is a chair, until it isn’t series       The Lone Figure series   Iceland/Island series
a chair is a chair, until it isn’t series      The Lone Figure series                 Iceland/Island series

What might surprise someone about you/your work? Despite the superficial differences from medium to medium, or from series to series, of course my work is all connected (because it all comes from the same person!). I have a restless sort of creative side to me and I like to experiment with materials, color, mediums, and subject matter, but I circle around and come back to the same thing time and again.

What are your thoughts on the Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations exhibition? I am really excited about this exhibit!  First, it just is going to be an amazing exhibit, based on what I’ve seen so far from the other artists. But it’s also an interesting proposition to work collaboratively, as I am with Roy Holmberg and Jamie Abbot. I’m so looking forward to finishing this piece and seeing it in place. Site-specific is different from my normal studio work because you always have to keep that site in one’s mind.