During a series of visits to China a few years ago, Kate Downie was brought into contact with traditional ink painting techniques, and also with the China of today. There she encountered the contrasts and meeting points between the epic industrial and epic romantic landscapes: the motorways, rivers, cityscapes and geology – all of which she absorbed and reflected on in a series of oil and ink paintings. As Kate creates studies for her paintings in situ, she is very much immersed in the landscapes that she is responding to and reflecting on.
The artwork shown above, ‘Nanbei’, which was purchased by the Art Collection in 2013, tackles similar themes to Downie’s Scottish based work, reflecting both her interest in the urban landscape and also the edges where land meets water. Here we encounter both aspects within a new setting – an industrial Chinese landscape set by the edge of a vast river. Downie is also obsessed with bridges. As well as the bridge that appears in this image, seemingly supported by trees that follow its line, the space depicted forms an unseen bridge between two worlds and two extremes, between epic natural and epic industrial forms. In this imagined landscape, north meets south (Nanbei literally means North South) and mountains meet skyscrapers; here both natural and industrial structures dominate the landscape. This juxtaposition is one of the aspects of China that impressed the artist and inspired the resulting work.
After purchasing this work by Kate Downie, the Art Collection invited her to be one of three exhibiting artists in its exhibition ‘Reflections of the East’ in 2015 (the other two artists were Fanny Lam Christie and Emma Scott Smith). All artists had links to China, and ‘Nanbei’ was central to the display of works in the Crush Hall that Kate had entitled ‘Shared Vision’.
Kate Downie studied Fine Art at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen and has held artists’ residencies in the USA and Europe. She has exhibited widely and has also taught and directed major art projects. In 2010 Kate Downie travelled to Beijing and Shanghai to work with ink painting masters and she has since returned there several times, slowly building a lasting relationship with Chinese culture. On a recent visit she learned how to carve seals from soapstone, and these red stamps can now be seen on all of her work, including on her print ‘Temple Bridge’ above, which was purchased by the Collection at the end of the exhibition.
Kate Downie recently gave an interesting online talk about her work and life in lockdown. It was organised by The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh which is currently holding an exhibition entitled ‘Modern Masters Women‘ featuring many women artists. Watch Kate Downie’s talk below: