Artist and Kansas City Art Institute assistant professor of sculpture Jill Downen is coming back for her fourth solo exhibit at Bruno David Gallery with “As If You Are Here.” Downen, a former Danforth Scholar and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis’ Master of Fine Arts program, has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony National Endowment for the Arts residency and Cité Internationale des Arts residency in Paris. Her newest exhibit, which will run from Feb. 5 through March 12, features a series of miniature rooms inside of walls, viewed through small windows. With various mixed media used to shape the forms in each room, illuminated by light and shadow, the exhibit invites viewers to unlock a desire to explore and discover conditions that shelter the human imagination.
How did you decide to become an artist?
At age 7, I wanted to be a Catholic priest. It didn't take long to figure out that was not possible. “Artist” was my second choice.
What can attendees expect as they walk through your newest exhibit?
Adults, children and collectors alike may expect an immersive experience with the art by peering into small windows set in the wall. Each interior space they encounter is uniquely sculpted to evoke curiosity, emotions and wonder. Themes of disrepair and restoration emerge from the idea that architecture is like a second skin to protect the body.
How did this exhibit come to be?
This exhibition is three years in the making, and it is still evolving. Model-making is a part of my practice as well as a necessary step in creating large, architectural installations. I began to notice that the models could stand on their own as finished sculpture or, in this case, miniature rooms. Scale is an important element because though each is about the size of a shoebox, the space inside each appears to be immense. Awareness of interior and exterior is distinct to each viewer's moment of perception.
What materials did you use?
The materials are richly varied. Viewers will see gold leaf, glass, polished concrete, plaster and wood, among other mixed media. I choose materials that best fit the idea and the goal of giving the art a haptic (tactile) presence.
What does the structure of the exhibit communicate?
The exhibit can be seen in a nonlinear order. There are no right or wrong ways to wander through the gallery, look through each window and discover each place. I hope the artwork heightens awareness of emotions and associations that delight and satisfy the human desire to wonder.
Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, gallery open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment, 314-531-3030, brunodavidgallery.com