Artist – Nicholas Down
November 3, 2023
Born in Uganda and raised in East Africa, Nicholas Down worked as a physician in England for 32 years before retiring in 2012 and emigrating to the USA where he has settled with his wife Judy in Dryden, New York. Down’s wife Judy is a Massage Therapist in private practice and at Cornell University. She is also a published author and has had distinguished career as an actress, including appearances on Broadway and a National Tour of Les Miserables.
Many of Down’s paintings are abstract landscapes with his palette dictated by the nature of the landscape. Hot, bright colors are not uncommon, which Down ascribes to his attraction to the American Southwest rather than his African youth. His father was in the British Foreign Service until the revolution that made Tanganyika into Tanzania ended his career, and the family left Africa when Down was 12 years old. He has not returned.
Down attributes the vibrancy of his colors in part to the high quality of his pigments. “I get some from De Kat, the only wind driven mill in the world that grinds pigments from stone: other suppliers are Vasari, Michael Harding and Old Holland. I believe that the quality of pigments I use is vital. I use Ampersand Gesso panels, mounted on birchwood frames and these allow a translucent light to permeate my work.”
“The paintings are composites of many images; they are expressions of internalized images, often inspired by direct observation or photography, but seek to express the invisible…”
He counts his influences among the Abstract Expressionists – Pollock, Gorky, de Kooning – but in his exploration of the nuance of light he goes back to the Impressionists and Turner.
Not all of his paintings are inspired by landscapes. Another theme he refers to as “biomorphic.” These images can be inspired by music – his mother was trained at the Royal Academy – and he will give a biomorphic shape to an abstract idea.
“I don’t make any drawings beforehand,” he said. “The painting evolves from the first marks that I make. I once had a commission to make eight canvases that would tell a story. I was listening to Liszt, put a huge charcoal mark on the canvas and went from there. I love the physicality of painting at a large scale.”
In the United Kingdom Down lived in Scotland and south of London, but he loves the landscape around Ithaca. “The winter is incredible,” he said. “I love the nuance of grays, from slate to a bluey-gray, but I haven’t worked it into my paintings yet. I love the sky here; it’s always changing.”
Down also makes films but has not yet begun to distribute them. He is still working on procuring licensing fees. His film work he said is, “a celebration of landscape and stills.”
Down joined the Greater Ithaca Art Trail earlier in 2013 and is the only painter located in Dryden. He lives right in the village and receives visitors at his studio on some of the First Saturday weekends organized by the art trail.
At the moment he is currently exploring new mediums and creating inspiring images in pencil. He continues to be delighted by the beauty of the natural world.