Mary Down Featured Artist of the Month

Written by Caryl Beach

On September 1, 2016

2 pages from one of my 'little black books'An Alumni of Digswell Arts Mary Down is currently a member of the print group at the Forge.

1) How would you describe your current practice (e.g. materials, techniques, themes, key questions, approach)?

Using the basic tools and materials of printmaking – a block or plate – ink and paper and the

wonderful old press at the Forge I take an experimental approach to printmaking. I will, for example,

use large sheets of plywood and often incorporate carborundum, chine collé and masking making

‘one off’ prints which may be part of a series of similar images but not an edition. I always hope

that the final state of the print will have evolved and developed way beyond my original idea.

I also, and increasingly, make ‘one off’ artists’ books. These too develop in an organic way as

print images pinned to my studio walls, words and concepts begin to interact and to develop a

conversation and life of their own. Moving out of my comfort zone I have recently enjoyed a

collaboration with the words of a young performance poet which resulted in several more ‘one off’



2) What are you working on at the moment?

My practice has always been pretty diverse. In the past I have explored and exhibited installation,

video and photographic work and I am currently revisiting some old ideas and am working on

small lead boxes incorporating birds’ nests and little wax figures. I have also begun a new series

of prints but am not at all certain where they are leading, an uncertainty I find both exciting and



3) What are your plans for the coming year?

To keep on exploring new ideas and making new work.


4) What is the question you get asked most about your work and how do you answer it?

Two questions always crop up. ‘How did you make that print?’ and ‘What inspired you, where

did the idea come from?’

I’m always happy to explain how I made a particular print and to explain both the practical and

creative processes if the questioner appears to be genuinely interested.


5)  What or who inspired you to be an artist and why? 

I sometimes think there was an inevitability about becoming an artist! Although I went to art college

as a teenager I never had the confidence to consider myself an artist and indeed I read Sociology

at university before returning, as a very mature student, to study fine art and eventually finding the

confidence to think of myself as an artist! However I do think that those academic studies,

which also included a Certificate in Theology from Cambridge, all feed into the work I now make.


6)  Which artist do you most admire and why? 

I’ve been inspired at different times by many different artists but I will pick out Vermeer for the

modesty and sense of stillness of his paintings. There is as well a whole list of women artists I

admire, as much for their longevity and work ethic as for anything else, these include Agnes Martin,

Prunella Clough, Bridget Riley, Paula Rego, Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama.


7)  How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?

As well as the practical benefit of access to the print room studio facilities at the Forge it has given

me the opportunity to share in a great community of very supportive fellow artists.

Profile: Mary Down

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