If you’re not paying attention, you may miss it, but once you see it, the impression of Spelman Evans Downer’s art is lasting.
Hosted by Gallery Turquoise North at Mile 49.5 of the Sterling Highway in Cooper Landing, the Ecotopia North Painting Exhibition that lasts through this weekend is a look at many of Alaska’s recognizable land features, including parts of the Kenai Peninsula. The exhibit opened on Oct. 5 and will run to Oct. 13 from 4 to 8 p.m. each day.
The exhibit is featured in an intimate gallery set up in Downer’s small workshop just off the Sterling Highway. Tucked away down a tree-shrouded gravel driveway that pops out just past a tight bend in the road, the show puts a spotlight on Downer’s exquisite detail in oil and enamel paintings, many of which are inspired by satellite imagery of Alaska landmarks.
The Cooper Landing artist is showcasing his many works of art to help support the fight against the Bristol Bay copper mine opening. Downer said 25% of proceeds will benefit Trout Unlimited to support their work with the Save Bristol Bay organization.
“I’m adamantly opposed to the Pebble Mine,” Downer said. “I’m very big on protecting the environment. I absolutely cherish the pristine watersheds here in Alaska, and we’ve seen a huge decline in our salmon runs. I feel like I need to do what I can to protect that pristine watershed.”
Downer, who wintered in California for many years before settling in Alaska full time, said when he made the decision to retire some years ago, he asked himself how he wanted to spend his time.
“When I retired, I thought, ‘What do you really want to do?’, ” he said. “I thought I’d go do art and go back to my environmental roots.”
Working and living with a full-time teaching position at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree, California, Downer said he established a bond with nature and developed an interest in learning about the great north woods, an “ecotopian coast where you could sustain yourself as a safe spot,” he said.
The exhibit — in fact, most of Downer’s career artwork — explores the “ecotopia” counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s green movement. Having been actively involved with environmental causes — he volunteered at the SalmonFest music and arts fair when it began in 2011 as an anti-Pebble grassroots movement — Downer said teaming up with Trout Unlimited was a natural partnership.
“Bristol Bay is the last fight for the least disturbed habitat,” he said. “The sulfuric acid that’s held in these dams, it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.”
Downer worked as an adjunct professor at Kenai Peninsula College from 1991 to 1995, and has lived part time in Cooper Landing for 29 years. Much of the artwork displayed in his exhibit shows mountain ranges, rivers and urban areas. Using maps and satellite images, Downer creates a real-life canvas of a particular area, using oil and enamel paint to create texture and relief of geography and topography.
Downer said he drew inspiration in his early work from two styles: abstract expressionism and color field painters, and photo realism.