Although primarily a landscape painter, the trademark immediacy of Downie's work is apparent in this painting. The energetic and expressive brush strokes of the background evoke the impression of a vibrant and busy scene outside of the cafe. The figures in the background are painted in a rather sketchy manner, suggesting quick movement as they bustle along the street. The great vitality of this work is produced by the vivid palette which is highly suggestive of the Mediterranean setting. Blue is the dominant colour of this painting, uniting the clear sky and calm blue sea with the blue worn by each of the figures in the foreground.
This work is based on a commission that Downie received from a film actor from the 1950's who now owns a gallery in the North East of Scotland with his wife. Being an admirer of Downie’s work, he invited her to visit the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival’s 50th anniversary to produce a series of work. Here she spent her days in the cafes along the boulevard watching the stars go by and soaking up the atmosphere of the festival. Her love of drawing in cafes comes from living in Paris in the 1980's. Parisian cafe life offers the perfect place to observe, and allowed Downie to explore the idea of loneliness in the city, even within this busy setting.
Downie took her inspiration for this scene from a painting by Edward Hopper called ‘Soir Bleu’, where the theme of solitude in a busy setting is also explored. However, the title of Downie’s work personalises the piece. Rona is an affectionate name for the artist, not typical of a film star, and so has the effect of bringing the ordinary into this extraordinary place. There are three figure groups in the foreground; two men engrossed in conversation and a woman deep in thought, whom we can assume is waiting for Rona. The idea of being an outsider looking into the scene is reiterated by the waiter staring right out of the canvas at the viewer. Just as Downie has the outsider viewpoint whilst sitting in a still point in the midst of the action, the viewer is brought into this scene through his direct gaze.
Kate Downie describes her work: "Ever since living in Paris in the late 80's, I have been exploring the concept of 'La Place': a point in the land where many roads meet. One of my creative concerns is to define these spaces between buildings rather than the buildings themselves. The object lesson for me is the witnessing and the drawing of these non-places which are also, by definition, public arenas of cumulative activity. My job as an artist is to accommodate these actions in our contemporary lives, and to find the poetry within."
Kate Downie was born in America of British parentage, but returned to live in the North East of Scotland at the age of 7. She studied Fine Art at Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen, including post graduate studies. She has been artist in residence in the USA, Amsterdam, Paris and more recently Corsica and Norway. During her career Kate has established studios in places as diverse as a brewery, a maternity hospital, an oil rig and an island underneath the Forth Rail Bridge. She has taught both in art colleges and universities and has directed major public and community art projects since 1987.
President of the historically adventurous Society of Scottish Artists from 2004-2006, Kate became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2008. In 2011 she participated in an international residency programme in Beijing to make new work and to study the work of Chinese ink painters. A solo show of new work in response to China's Industrial Revolution will open in 2013 at the RSA in Edinburgh and will be accompanied by a new publication.
Art in Healthcare's blog entry about Kate Downie