From curating student exhibits to Maine Arts Commission public artwork, Visual Arts Technician Kyle Downs has devoted his life to his craft. In addition to his post at Bowdoin, Downs is an active artist in his own right. His most recent project, "Beyond The Forest," opened last Friday at the Coleman Burke Gallery at Port City Music Hall in Portland.

After graduating from Brunswick High School, Downs explored his creative passions in New York, where he spent two years at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, studying graphic design. He then returned to Maine, where he studied painting at the Maine College of Art (MECA).

Since graduating from MECA in 2006, Downs has spent the last four years as Bowdoin's visual arts technician.

"I work directly with professors and directly and indirectly with students to curate all of the student exhibits in the VAC, manage the woodshop, document shows and handle the supplies students need," said Downs.

Downs learned of the position from Lecturer in Art John Bisbee, who Downs first met when Bisbee was coaching lacrosse at Brunswick High School.

Since then, Downs has helped Bisbee with the installation of his solo show in The Portland Museum of Art in 2008. Professor of Art and Program Director of Visual Arts Mark Wethli also received Downs' assistance with his installation of "Piper Cub" in 2007.

Although Downs is currently focused on sculpture, he has dabbled in a variety of styles and mediums.

"I was searching to figure out the process I enjoyed most and how I could sustain being creative and not getting trapped in doing just one thing," Downs said.

"I ended up taking classes in computer graphics and other design elements I wasn't excited about. [So I] cut out for a semester and started back up at MECA as a painting major."

Though he still works on paintings every now and then, Downs has transitioned to sculpture, using less conventional, inexpensive materials. His artistic evolution from a focus on painting to sculpture grew out of experimentation mixing the two.

"I was working a lot on painting panels," said Downs. "The guys working around me were doing construction pieces and then my works started getting more structural."

"Once I graduated, I was making paintings that had other paintings coming out [of them] and then I started making wall sculpture with high relief materials coming out of them. Then I took away the paint aspect to creating forms out of wood."

These wooden forms eventually became the inspiration for "Beyond the Forest."

Downs credits Bisbee and Wethli for his shift to sculpture. Downs further attributes his shift to "moving to the studio space at Fort Andross and the environment I was's hard to make small paintings in a seemingly football field-sized studio."

"Beyond the Forest" is a sight-specific installation for the Coleman Burke Gallery. Downs built the structural sections of the piece in his studio and then connected them in the gallery. The sculpture is roughly 12 ft x 14 ft and therefore had to be installed on site.

"Hand-collected twigs from the woods behind my house in Topsham are on the back side of the piece," said Downs. "The idea came from collecting sticks for no apparent reason and challenging myself to use different materials than [the ones] I had been using."

"I figured out how to incorporate the sticks into a more exciting piece that used dry-wall concrete and formed wood."

Downs' challenge was to take the twigs and other materials and convert them into a thematic piece.

"A lot of the work that I do I start with just the materials and then start building off of that," said Downs. "I'd seen this building that was created around a boulder and you could see the natural object and the man-made surrounding it. I've been working with the idea of how objects can play off each other and exist in harsh conditions."

"The idea is of the transformation from the sticks in the forest, the way that they meet a man-made obstacle, the way they interact with each other, and how they can transform based on this obstacle. It has to do with nature and the machine and resistance," added Downs.

With the completion of this project, Downs will soon begin work on a public art project for the Durham Community School through the Maine Arts Commission. Downs went through a rigorous application process before receiving the commission. The project will be completed by the end of 2012.

"I had to present in front of a board and the town [of Durham]. My idea went back and forth several times—you're basically collaborating with a committee to create something," said Downs.

"Public art is getting more and more popular," he said. "It's great to have images for your portfolio and for your resume and to work with a committee. After the piece my main plan is to apply to grad schools for sculpture."

An opening reception for "Beyond the Forest" will be held Friday at The Coleman Burke Gallery at Port City Music Hall in Portland. The show will be on display through March 2.