Jill Downen’s art envisions a symbiotic relationship between the human body and built environment, where the exchanging energies of construction, destruction, and restoration emerge as a visual language. Their creative process employs fluid movement between drawing, model-making, and sculptural installations. Downen states, “I believe that the body is the primary vehicle for understanding the world. I offer viewers immersive environments that engage the senses and ways of knowing that are often private and experiential.”
Downen’s current series titled Speak Truth addresses the complex ways in which people anchor, navigate, and orient themselves in the fragility of a disinformation age. Working with project participants from nine countries, a series of Truth Lines and Anti-Plumb Lines explore objective and subjective truth/s. The art responds to private and public space as it shifts scale from intimate audio recordings and works on paper to monumental public works.
Downen was born in 1967 in Belleville, Illinois. Their career evolved in St. Louis and Kansas City and grew to national recognition. Their awards include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Stone and DeGuire Contemporary Art Award, the Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artists Award, and a grant from the Santo Foundation. Downen was featured in State of the Art 2020 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art/ The Momentary. They have created site-specific installations for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (Great Rivers Biennial), Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington DC. Downen’s sculpture, Architectural Folly from a Future Place, commissioned by Open Spaces: The Exhibition, was gifted to Kansas City by the Kemper Charitable Trust and remains on permanent view in Swope Park. They developed work while in residence at MASS MoCA, the MacDowell Colony National Endowment for the Arts residency, Cité Internationale des Arts residency in Paris, and Ragdale Foundation. Downen has lectured about their work extensively, including at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC and the Luce Irigaray Circle Philosophy Conference in New York. They hold a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA as a Danforth Scholar from the Washington University in St. Louis. Downen is currently the chair of sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute and is represented by Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis.