Painting the Town Red Rocks: Local Artist Paints World-Class Venue

By Maggie Canty-Shafer

Julie Downing doesn’t stop just to smell the flowers.

She stops to revel in their design, their beauty and intricacies. She stops to soak in each petal and leaf, the colors and contrast, the miracle of its life. She stops to thank what she knows as Mother Nature for such a perfect and delicate piece of artwork, and also to wonder how she’ll incorporate it into her own.

Downing is an artist (known locally for her series of Red Rocks paintings) whose vibrant personality can’t help but appear on the paper. The bright colors, psychedelic loops and lines and hidden female imagery evoke feelings of an earthly excitement and reminisce of a generation that believed in change and hoped in love.

“I’m a naturalist,” she said. “I try and convey a love of nature through my work. The message I would have to say is for people to look closer at it. I want people to look for the detail.”

She has been creating art since she can remember. Raised by an artist, she grew up earning money for shows by sewing patchwork clothing to sell outside her favorite concerts – a worthy exchange for tickets, food and lodging.

Downing received her B.F.A. in sculpture and life drawing from Minnesota State University Mankato, but since becoming a mother of two and wife of Musketeer Gripweed’s Jason Downing, watercolor has become a more accessible and family-friendly medium for her.

“I started painting because it was something I could do with my son,” she said.

Red Rocks was an obvious subject choice for the Widespread Panic fan, who hasn’t missed their annual weekend at the world class venue since 1998 – not counting the year she went into labor during the Saturday night performance with her oldest son.

“I suppose being in labor was an acceptable excuse,” Downing said, laughing.

She started painting Red Rocks annually in 2006, signing and numbering limited prints that she sells at shows as well as at Nature’s Own and on Her 2006 and 2007 prints have sold out, and 2011’s will be out this June.

“It’s very humbling to be able to produce art for my peers,” she said.

Along with the Red Rock’s portraits, Downing has painted limited edition concert posters for Musketeer Gripweed, Horsetooth Rock and various pieces incorporating female genitalia that she’s sold outside of the Vagina Monologues performances. Her art – largely influenced by Alphonse Mucha and ‘60s poster art – has been purchased and collected by people from all over the states, and even printed onto t-shirts for a wedding party.

With both her fans’ growing demands and her own ever-increasing desire to create, Downing sees herself painting for a long time.

“I believe I’ve been put on this earth to do some kind of art,” she said. “I believe that’s what I’m supposed to do and I hope to do it until I die.”

Find Julie Downing’s artwork on You can also view and purchase her art at Nature’s Own in Old Town Fort Collins.

Here are two examples of her work:

"Red Rocks 2008"

"Red Rocks 2009"


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