Born in Uganda and raised in East Africa, Nicholas Down worked as a family Doctor in England for 32 years before retiring in 2012 and emigrating to the USA where he has settled with his wife Judy in upstate New York. He became a US citizen in 2015. Down’s wife Judy works at Cornell University as a massage therapist, and is also a writer and has had distinguished career as an actress, including appearances on Broadway and a National Tour of Les Miserables.
Many of Down’s paintings are abstract landscapes with his palette dictated by the nature of his imagination. Hot, bright colors are not uncommon, which Down ascribes to his attraction to the American West and his African youth. His father was in the British Foreign Service until the revolution that made Tanganyika into Tanzania ended his career, and the family left Africa when Down was 12 years old. He has not returned. Down attributes the vibrancy of his colors in part to the high quality of his pigments. “I get some from De Kat, the only windmill in the world that grinds pigments from stone: other suppliers are Vasari, Michael Harding and Old Holland. I believe that the quality of pigments I use is vital. I use Ampersand Gesso panels, mounted on birch wood frames and these allow a translucent light to permeate my work." He counts his influences among the Abstract Expressionists - Pollock, Rothko, Gorky, de Kooning - but in his exploration of the nuance of light he goes back to the Impressionists and Turner.
Not all of his paintings are inspired by landscapes. Another theme he refers to as “biomorphic.” These images are often inspired by music - his mother was trained at the Royal Academy - and he will give a biomorphic shape to an abstract idea. “I don’t make any drawings beforehand,” he said. “The paintings evolve from the first marks that I make. I once had a commission to make eight canvases that would tell a story. I was listening to Liszt, put a huge charcoal mark on the canvas and went from there. I love the physicality of painting at a large scale.” In the United Kingdom, Down often visited the Northwest of Scotland where he was inspired by the long and beautiful island light, but lived south of London.
Now settled in upstate New York he loves the landscapes around Ithaca. “The winter is incredible,” he said. “I love the nuance of grays, from slate to a bluey-gray. I love the sky here; it’s always changing.” Down also makes films but has not yet begun to distribute them. His film work he said is, “a celebration of landscape and stills.”
His most recent paintings celebrate the beauty of America’s National Parks and Monuments at a time when they are increasingly threatened by both climate change and unfavorable administration policies. “The paintings are composites of many images; they are expressions of internalized memories, often inspired by direct observation or photography, but seek to express the invisible...” At the moment he is preparing work for upcoming exhibitions in Ithaca, New York City, Philadelphia and Bridgehampton. Most recently, one of his paintings has been acquired by the Yu Kyung Art Museum in South Korea.