Joe Downing, a member of a prominent Western Kentucky family, lived and worked in Paris and Provence.
He became internationally celebrated in the 1950s and '60s for his creation of the "stapleage," abstract collages of office supplies. Downing's fame landed him a place in Herta Wescher's Collage, a history of the art form published by Abrams in 1968.
Downing was born in Tompkinsville and raised in Horse Cave. He served in Europe during World War II, came home and studied at Western Kentucky University, where the encouragement of artist Ivan Wilson was crucial to his career. A detour to Chicago to study optometry proved to be critical thanks to classes at the Art Institute. By 1950 his mind was made up, and he hied himself to Paris to pursue his muse. Only two years later he was having a one-man exhibition in the French capital, a show that confirmed him in his decision. A fellow artist named Pablo Picasso attended the display and pronounced it “Well done.” Downing became one of only three Americans to have exhibited in the Louvre.
The artist is also known for his paintings on leather, but he worked in lithography and etching as well. The piece we are offering is an aquatint, and we would note its close resemblance to his stapleages.
You’ll find Downing's works in the Paris Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art. A museum dedicated to Downing is just outside Bowling Green.