Graduates 2023: Abi Downey: Painting

“I don’t want it to stop but endings bloom into new beginnings and I’m excited about the future.”

Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences

Destruction, reformation, and play are the key components of my practice. The vases in my work act as an allegory of the human body, blur the line between subject and object and symbolise both the fragility and strength of my being in different forms. Before smashing a vase, it is a strong and supportive vessel but when the vase is smashed, its fragile nature is exposed. When I smash a vase, I metaphorically smash a version of myself. Destruction allows for reformation, and this cyclical way of working is influenced by kintsugi – a centuries-old art form that is part of the broader philosophy of wabi-sabi. The philosophy embraces the beauty of human flaws, which is an intrinsic element of my practice and a constant undercurrent throughout the work I produce.

Research is another important ingredient of my practice and a few books that have largely influenced the way I think about and make art include, Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing and Criticism by Lauren Fournier, Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell and Flags for countries that don’t exist but bodies that do by Rene Matić. Each book has allowed my practice to evolve; Fournier’s text in particular helped me to understand that fictionalising the self was a genre of art. I have since continued to push my work in that direction, with closer focus on auto-fiction. Fragments of a Whole is the title of a broken ceramic bunny I produced in second year, this same bunny revealed to me months later its desire to break free and transform which led to birth of the Broken Bunny character. Through performance, sculpture, and collage, I explore my inner and outer worlds to create spaces where both co-exist at once. Pipilotti Rist and Sin Wai Kin are two artists who also brought to light the potential of employing world-building as a methodology and they have both largely influenced my work this year. Specifically, Sonntagmorgenhütte (Sunday Morning Hut) by Pipilotti Rist; it triggered memories of the tents I made as a child and the wholesome, innocent act of creating a home inside of a home, made from different materials that could provide space for an inner world. Toying around with this concept of internal and external realms inspired me to build my own tent, which led to the development of my degree show final piece, Home, issue 2 – a private space inside a public place.



How have you found your course and what made you choose it?

The course has been incredible, and I’ve learnt a lot over the three years. We’re so lucky to get designated studios at Brighton and even though I don’t predominately paint, I was drawn to the specificity of the course. I also like that tutorials are very regular – both crits and tutorials have been crucial for my artistic development and I don’t know where I’d be without them; it’s such a fantastic and essential aspect of the Fine Art Painting course in my opinion. And I chose Brighton because I’d visit my sister here, every time I’d stay with her, I’d always think to myself “I can see myself studying in place like this, I want to move here” – it’s such a vibrant city and there’s always something going on. I also needed to be near the sea, I’m from Plymouth originally which is another seaside city, I don’t function very well when I’m not near nature.


Was the location of your course in Brighton more important than you thought it would be?

Definitely! Brighton is such a unique city; it’s so open-minded and accepting. The city gives you the space and freedom to explore things like sexuality and gender without judgement. I didn’t know I was asexual or non-binary before moving here – I have Brighton, and its wonderful people, to thank for so many parts of my personal and artistic evolution.


What are your plans after graduation?

I’d like to start a local art magazine and curate more shows in Brighton. Me and Eli Norman made a magazine for the degree show to replace the ‘exhibition catalog’ – it’s been a challenging endeavor and such an enjoyable one too. I don’t want it to stop but endings bloom into new beginnings and I’m excited about the future.


If you could give you 16-year-old self any advice about going to university what would it be?

Embrace failure! Failure will teach you far more than ‘success’ ever will.


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