Saturday, September 21, 2019

EXPLORING ART and ARTIST: Fiona O'downey

Fiona O'downey
This month at OOAK Artisan Showcase, we present the artwork of Utica artist, Fiona O'downey. Her exhibit is titled "Force of Memory", acrylic works painted in the Precisionism style of the 1920's.Her artwork will be on display through October 6, 2019. 
Learn more about the artist by reading the latest edition of Exploring Art and Artist, written by Ellen Schimmel Pearson –

It has been my pleasure to discover this intricate artist on behalf of OOAK Artisan Website,  I am happy to share this lovely journey in getting to know this artist.  

Fiona, you mentioned on your facebook page that you grew up near a corner of South and Genesee St in Utica, NY, and carry many great memories of those younger years.  Did you have experiences in your younger years that inspired you to begin creating artwork? 

I began to create art when I was about 5 years old.  I always felt that art was inside of me, plus my mother was an inspiration as an artist herself, and there were always art supplies around.  When I look at my 8 yr old grandson and the skill with which he draws (“born with a pencil in his hand!”), I believe our talent also came from our genealogy. 

Were there influences that helped to shape your style of art along the way? 

It was mostly the circumstances of my younger years.  In high school, which for the time (1960’s) we had a very large graduating class, we were introduced to the concept of “starving artists”.  We were told we could never earn a living with art.  We were sent to home economics classes, taught how to keep a good home, and pushed into service jobs.  I became a social worker in long term care.  From then on I spent the next twenty five years putting my art second, just finding time here and there to develop my creativity.  A broken marriage catapulted me to quit my job as a social worker and finally pursue what I loved.  I went to art school!  From then on, I did work part time jobs to support me, but art was my first pursuit. 

Momento Mori: Fay Street Warehouse
The painting you had displayed on that corner in Utica is typical of your style of art, which you describe as “Precisionist Art”.  I looked up this style of art and it is defined as a “cool art” form; one that keeps the viewer at a distance, and can have an attitude of artist detachment, and is many times void of human influence.  In the artwork of this building displayed on South and Genesee St,  I definitely see that you put the viewer at a distance, like it is a snapshot in time, with many aspects of the building celebrated….outbuildings, neighboring structures, smoke stacks in the background, ladders, flagpole, shadows falling on the windows and street, literally everything that falls in front of, behind, beside, and covering the central building, without taking away from it.  By keeping the viewer at a distance, you guide the viewer to broaden their perspective as they gaze.  Which would almost seem to be opposite of the term “precision”.  Or maybe it is intended to make the viewer look with more precision to see all that is in the painting!  How do you hope to guide the viewer in this style of painting? 

I would say, BOTH of the above.  I hope that the viewer has a broader perspective when looking at my painting, but also I hope that he or she examines it with more precision.  And then, I would say NEITHER.  I say that because it is not what I want them to see; only they can figure that out for themselves. The reason my artwork is devoid of human emotion or attributes, and blocks the viewer from psychologically and visually “entering” the building, is that it makes you, the viewer, think about the building.  What was it used for in its beginnings?  How has it changed over the years and what could it be used for now?  What might have it looked like on the inside and what people may have inhabited it? I never put my emotions into the painting, because each viewer will put their own emotions into it and have a unique experience.  Precisionist art makes the viewer conceptualize these emotions without it being fed to them from the artist’s point of view.  
Room by the Air Shaft

The definition of precisionist art mentions that it can be devoid of human interaction.  In your artist statement from 63rd Artists of CNY Exhibition, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, you describe your inspirations as coming from: “the movement of the sun across the sky, in shadows, in the silvery light cast through and from old windows, in the buildings and forms I see everyday as I pass through the city”.  This would be in line with the precisionist form of art.  Everything mentioned here is non-human.  And yet, when you describe your own interaction with the painting,  “While I work on the painting the painting becomes an eye, watching me watch it and this eye speaks to me, in a language both familiar and foreign”, it is as if the subject itself takes on human qualities.  Do you find that your painting fills your soul as much as a human could?

Night Watch 1
Copyright © Fiona O’downey
Well, yes, when I work with a painting, and any artist would agree, over time it begins to take on a life of its own, and you reach a point where the picture almost guides you in the direction it needs to go.  Much like some people are guided by humans in their lives.  And yes, although there are some voids that only my family or friends can fill, much of my soul is filled with my experience of painting.  One of my favorite paintings is that of the Oneita Knitting Mill on Broad Street in Utica, NY.  This is a tribute to my dad, who was a night watchman there.  The yellow window represents the eternal presence of my dad in my life.  You can never see him in human form, but he is always there, watching.  It represents my spiritual belief that even though my loved ones have passed beyond this world, their soul is still here, keeping watch over me. 

I think what makes an artist unique is that he/she acknowledges that there are many means to filling their soul, whereas some people depend on other humans to do so.   Aside from the inspiration of your artist’s palette, how else do you fill your soul?

I have many means with which I fill my soul.  I love historical writing, mid century modern furniture decorating, I love cooking, I enjoy my family, including my daughter and three grandchildren, many friends.  I recently met relatives in New Jersey after 70 years that I met on!

It sounds like many of those items listed are art forms in themselves.

Yes, I believe they are!

Where do you find the subjects of your paintings?  Do you paint from a picture or do you create these images from your imagination?

Providence No. 2
Copyright © Fiona O’downey

I find my subjects everywhere! Mostly when I travel.  I have had some unique experiences, just looking for the right building to photograph.  From the Pittsfield, MA Amtrack Station to rat infested city tracks, I consider every place I go a potential for inspiration.  I always take a photo of the buildings and then go home and paint where I can control the light and shading.  I never change the actual building, but sometimes I will make a collage of several buildings and put them together. 

I love your painting of the cats, which I am assuming are Siamese as they have that feel to them.  The whole picture makes me feel like I am in France!  The colors, the furniture, the lines of the picture…I am thinking this must have been fun for you to paint, because it had a little whimsical (and yet sophisticated) feel to it and it immediately made me smile!  Do you like to include animals in your artwork?  What inspired you to play with the French influence? 

It actually was just a whim, a fun encounter.  I wanted to decorate my home and I didn’t want to buy artwork, so I painted some!  I did have a show in my home, but normally they are fun paintings that I do not show.  I don’t paint animals generally but did do a few for this project.

Louise Brooks – an American actress known as a flapper icon in the 20’s and 30’s.  Did you create this painting of her?  You have sported a similar hairstyle and look – how has this woman inspired you in your personal life as well as in your artwork?
No, I did not paint this but I am inspired by this 1920’s actress.   loved the era of the 1920’s.  The economic boom, the hope for the future, the bright colors, the hairstyles, the clothing.  Louise Brooks was the essence of this time period.  She is my “muse”, my source of inspiration.  I would go back and live in that time if I could!
The Love Letters      Copyright © Fiona O’downey
You do have some interesting abstract pieces in your artwork.  What does your abstract art say to the viewer?  Is it a window to your feelings as you create it?  Or do you start out with a theme from the beginning?  Just like your building paintings, there is so much going on that it commands the viewer to, again, look with more precision to see all that is in the painting!  So, what I call abstract art, still contains a  thread of precisionist art in there.  Do you intentionally blend these two styles of art?  
Actually, I started doing abstract art while in art school, and it is one of the areas I studied.  I really haven’t done many pieces in recent years as I have concentrated my interests toward precisionist art pieces.  I guess I had some precisionist art influence in the abstract art but I didn’t really plan it that way.  Maybe precisionist art was always in me back then waiting to come out!

What pieces are you planning to put in the upcoming OOAK Artisan Show?  What would you like the readers to know about what they will experience when they view your works? 
I am planning to put more of my Precisionist artwork in the show, but some newer work, including Urban Buildings.  I hope the viewer uses these images to create their own version of what each represents, and can infuse a part of themselves into the paintings.  I hope it makes them inquisitive and wondering about the role these old buildings have played in our history, and maybe it transports them to a different time and place. 

August 8th  No.2        Copyright © Fiona O’downey
What are your hopes and dreams??    

I have one hope and dream:  to live another ten years and still be doing what I love at the age of 80!

Is there a message you would like to leave with the readers and upcoming artists?

Yes.  I have lived my own version of the struggles of artists.  When I was married, building up my art whenever I had the time, I came home one day to find that my husband at the time had destroyed every single piece of my artwork which I had spent a lifetime creating!  I felt as if my soul had been destroyed.  But I fought back.  I got divorced, and started over with my art and my life.  I went to art school and have never turned back!  I would like the readers to know that any traumatic experience can be the catalyst that can lead you on to your next and greatest inspiration!
Thank you, Fiona, for sharing with us this unique style of art, and for the inspiration of your life experience!  We hope to see your talent continue to grow over the next ten years and beyond!

Gallery 2 at OOAK Artisan Showcase
"Force of Memory", will be on display through October 6, 2019.

OOAK Artisan Showcase is located at 425 W Thomas St, Rome NY. All are welcome. Additional parking in the back of our building.

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