American artist Brad Downey finds innovative ways to excavate and emphasise existing street art
Berlin-based American artist Brad Downey doesn’t hold back from engaging with any medium. Installation, filmmaking or photography – anything is on the table, as long as it suits his immediate creative desires. His diverse body of installations defies formulaic description. One discernable trait is his use of simple, everyday objects, stripped of their primary purpose and arranged in a way that seems accidentally perfect. His work is replete with wit and good humour.
Recently, Downey brought life back to an old sculpture by T. Sadykov, The Father of Nations, in Bishkek, Kyrgystan. Walking by one day, he noticed the absence of the figures once adorning the tops of the massive sculpture. He learnt that the bronze portraits had been stolen over the years. Using a borrowed lift, he had real people – writers, doctors, geologists, a poet, a filmmaker, a politician, a composer and an opera singer – stand in as temporary avatars for the missing sculptures.
Bradley sees the everyday world as being ripe for interpretation and playful metaphor. He often works while travelling, seeking inspiration in new contexts. Although he doesn’t tag, Downey has strong ties to graffiti art. In a project called Searching for Something Concrete, done in collaboration with art restorer Magdalena Recova in Vienna in 2010, Downey removed layers from the Graffiti Wall of Fame through a chemical process, revealing 15 different layers of historical graffiti markings. The aim of this time-consuming endeavour was to hone in on the deceptive nature of surfaces and show that sight can capture only the thinnest surface of reality.
In a project in Portugal later the same year, entitled Buff the F**ks, Downey reversed this process, completely masking a neglected factory in Lisbon with the grey paint used to conceal spray paint, covering everything except the existing graffiti.
Downey doesn’t rewrite art history, but he does advocate reprioritising its content. “This is something I have to do!” he says of his work. All around us are pieces of our familiar world to reconsider, not even necessarily in the context of art, but as playful manifestations. For those struggling to believe, Downey recommends “going for a walk and looking up at the universe above” for proof of infinite possibility.