Fresno Art Museum Show Deserves Attention

By Donald Munro, The Fresno Bee, Oct 07, 2010

In a sense, an art museum is a little like Holly Downing's new show "Penumbrae." It's a place where you can slip into the shadows, if only to muse for a moment. A museum can be a sliver of shade — a welcome and tangible respite — from the hot, broiling complexities of daily life.

That feeling certainly enveloped me when I wandered into the snug, compelling show by Downing now running through Jan. 8 at the Fresno Art Museum. She gives us a world of long, dramatic shadows running through scenes of doorways, arches, bridges and other pieces of architecture. Curator Linda Cano describes Downing's work as "brooding scenes of solitude," and she invokes a nearly untranslatable word often applied to Spanish art, duende, in describing the deeply cast shadows in Downing's work that "demand our silent contemplation, in places we might otherwise pass by without a second thought."

Now that all four new fall shows have officially opened for the season, it's a good time to take a leisurely stroll through the galleries. Some of my thoughts from a recent visit:


The best way to understand Downing's work is head straight for the back wall and look at her mezzotints, for which she's garnered considerable artistic acclaim. This old and little-used printmaking technique, which involves roughening a copper plate with a tool called a "rocker" that makes thousands of little dots, produces with Downing's hand a soft, mellow effect. Shadows and mezzotints are a natural combination, and I found myself pulled into the almost misty confines of her works.

That soft, shadowy sensation transfers to Downing's small oil paintings for the show. While devoid of actual people, her work reflects the solid impact of human construction. There's something wistful, mysterious -- and perhaps even a little dangerous — about the dark shadows that spill out from Downing's doorways and arches. Who knows what could be lurking just out of range?

Fresno Art Museum, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. 
2233 N. First St. Free on Sundays.,  Phone: (559) 441-4221. $5 adults/students/seniors.