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Painting a lifetime on canvas

Canyon Country resident Romeo Downer creates childhood memories of the Caribbean with oil and canvas

Posted: November 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Romeo Downer looks down on his living room and his art-covered walls in his Canyon Country home.

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Romeo Downer has preserved childhood memories not in scrapbooks or journals — but through 200-plus paintings of the Caribbean, painted on oil and canvas.

The 74-year-old Canyon Country resident, born and raised in Barbados, said his method of memories is simple: “I paint the things I see and the things I love.”

Downer was an artist from an early age and honed his drawing skills under the eye of Carl Broodhagen, a Caribbean artist.

“I always loved painting as a little boy,” he said. “When you’re good at something, you tend to love it and stick with it.”

He worked as a political cartoonist at a Barbados newspaper until he came to California as a 21-year-old.

Drawing and painting moved to the backburner as he developed a career as a technical research photographer for Hughes Aircraft Company and raised two sons in Los Angeles.

But 15 years ago, Downer retired in the Santa Clarita Valley and took his easel out again.

The walls of his two-story home are covered with his work, and the garage and space under the stairs hold what walls can’t. His house is home to nearly 200 pieces of his artwork.

“But not all of them are good, though,” he said with a laugh.

While Downer has painted family members and California scenery, the majority of his work focuses on images from the Caribbean and his life in Barbados. The people and landscapes aren’t necessarily people and places he knows, but composites of his memories.

“Whatever I do just comes together from memories and my photos,” said Downer, who visits the Caribbean at least once a year and dons colorful printed shirts from his home country. “Sometimes you have an idea and things just come out and I just go with it.”

His most recent works are a series of four paintings that portray growing up in Barbados: A boy building his own toy truck, a boy drinking water from a neighborhood fountain, a boy riding a scooter, and a boy and girl fishing by the ocean.

Downer said a painting can take anywhere from a couple of hours to several weeks, depending on the complexity of the painting.

“Sometimes they flow easily and sometimes they don’t,” he said. “It’s a very time-consuming thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a chore. I adore it. But I need to make the time.”

Many of Downer’s paintings show vibrant scenes of dancing women or men playing instruments.

One painting of Caribbean women in white dresses — “Dancing Ebonies” — placed first in an art show. But people are tough to paint, he said.

“With people, you’re forced to follow certain rules,” Downer said.

Some of his work garners blue ribbons, but Downer has a tough time picking a favorite himself.

“My favorite is usually the one I’m working on,” he said. “I’ll love it the most.”

Lucky for Downer, his hobby also pays off. He has held a handful of exhibits over the years in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Florida and has been able to sell many paintings and garner various ribbons for his work.

“I enjoy meeting people,” he said. “Shows are a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”

He regularly donates paintings to various fundraisers and events as well.

When Downer isn’t painting, he is spending time with his sons and grandchildren in Los Angeles, reading or traveling.

Beyond the Caribbean, he likes to visit Europe and hopes to travel to Japan.

Downer also had the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book called “Rosa’s Paw-Paw Tree,” when the author found his website and contacted him.

He’s considered pursuing other projects, like turning his four-piece series on his childhood memories into a 12-piece set that can be made into a calendar. But the retiree isn’t trying to turn his passion into an obligation.

“I don’t want to tie myself down to work,” he said. “I just want to go with the flow of things.”

See Downer’s work at http://caribbeanartist.com.

smitchell@the-signal.com

 

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