Luminous Shadows

Preview by Debra Koppman, ARTWEEK

Holly Downing’s Luminous Shadows emerge from darkness to revel points of light, creating what can be read as a visual metaphor for a philosophy of life. While light emerges from darkness in each of her works, it is particularly highlighted in the mezzotints. These small-scale, black-and-white works are mysterious despite their familiar content – faded cloth, plants, doorways or drops of water.

Downing is a master of the mezzotint process, a slow and tedious printmaking technique popular in the eighteenth century. To the rare contemporary practitioner it offers rich velvety tones unique from those achieved by other processes. Mezzotints tend to be small, forcing an intimacy that adds to the sense of mystery and heightened awareness, even, as in Downing’s works, through the depiction of simple subjects. Although her images are representational, the primary inquiry that informs this body of work is the nature of lightness and darkness. What is hidden? What is revealed? What is suggested beyond the obvious? How does perception change, based on variations of light?

Knotted Drapery: Anguish and Grace (2002) at 18 by 22 inches, is actually large for a mezzotint, and features, as suggested by the title, simple drapery that has been transformed into an anthropomorphic form through the careful articulation of limited light and the crafting of shadows. Taking on human form, the cloth hangs in a Christ-like position, seemingly at the mercy of our interpretation.

A focus on the binary of dark and light, together with highly saturated imagery and complex handiwork, contributes to the works’ lack of specificity with respect to time. The frequent use of cloth and images of portals add a sense of theatricality and lend the exhibition a stage-like presence. As seemingly ordinary subjects are transformed into staging grounds for varied moods and meanings, the simplest of structures appear swollen with possibility. The most successful of these images transcend their identify as object and become stand-ins for something else, a question completed by the viewer in the works’ reception.

Debra Koppman
March 2009

Luminous Shadows: Mezzotints and Paintings will be on view April 17 through May 25 at Quicksilver Mine Co., 7771 Front St. (Hwy 116), Forestville.