by Judith Levine
Jaime Downs grew up as the child who always drew in a non-artist family. A Pennsylvania native, she graduated in 1972 from Kutztown University. At the time she was working in oils for a brief period prior to switching to acrylics. And it was here she began her epic Oneness series, one that she continues to work on even now.
Recognizing that she would need to do more than her painting to earn a livable income, Jamie continued on with her education. Further study at LaSalle College in Philadelphia and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, earned her a certificate in Art Administration in 1976. It was during this time she met her husband John and they had their children. The couple moved here 15 years ago.
Over the years Downs has worked in that art administration, as a newspaper photographer, graphic and web designer, and she ran a gallery. Additionally, a warm and encouraging personality has also made Downs a wonderful teacher in a career that has found her at Prince George’s Community College, Drexel University, the University of the District of Columbia and the school she currently teaches at, Montgomery College in Germantown.
After moving to Maryland, Downs got a studio in Takoma Park, and she continued to work in art administration besides teaching. She also had a sudden turn in her subject matter.
“For most of the time, [my] work has been a non-objective Jungian search of the collective unconscious; but 15 years ago it took an unexpected turn. Very large close-up images of flowers became a part of the mixed media paintings, and that began a new direction and inspired some new work for [me] …” (Artist’s Bio, December 20, 2015 by Artists & Makers Studios)
I asked Downs who her early influences were and she told me they included Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins, Georgia O’Keefe, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottleib, and James Brooks. Gottleib is considered the father of American Abstraction. These artists often worked very large and with the exception of Avery, chose brilliant colors. As with Downs’ art, their works explore their subjects with amorphous shapes that make the viewer use their own feelings and insights to understand what is being conveyed.
For Jamie Downs, her Oneness series has been successful beyond her imagination. Begun during her undergraduate days at Kutztown, “these paintings represent quite a bit of my history … The earliest [paintings in the series are] … are from around 1969-1972. I was 19 to 22 years old, finishing art school and very intrigued by Abstract Expressionism and the Jungian Collective Unconscious. I made a commitment to this search and have continued it since.” (The Search for Oneness: Fifty Years of Spiritually Based Art by Jamie Downs, Artists and Makers, January 6, 2019).
Downs told me that while not overtly religious in nature, they do explore her relationship with the world and the universe. They continue to evolve as life adds new experiences.
“In 2007 I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and had approximately a year and a half of chemo and clinical tests. At each treatment I did a healing painting.” (The Search for Oneness: Fifty Years of Spiritually Based Art by Jamie Downs, Artists and Makers, January 6, 2019). Her paintings contain not only the brightness of her chosen colors, but the glowing inner life of their creator.
Jaime Downs plans to keep right on painting, hoping that in 10 years she may be able to do it full time, but admitting that she might keep teaching occasionally (if new students are lucky, this writer thinks). The addition of her representational work 15 years ago, has just expanded her search for meaning in the world around her. It is a search that those of us fortuitous enough to be in her sphere get to experience first-hand, and those lucky enough to see in her shows realize how fortunate they are.