A sculptor in the Deep South

Casey Downing's ''Center,'' despite its small dimensions (30 by 10 by 8 inches), has the presence of a monumental work. Here you have an example of the solid art now produced along the Gulf Coast of America's Deep South.

Downing, who lives and works in Mobile, Ala., is that rare sculptor - a formalist in the modern field. He concentrates on the effects of light playing on the planes and arcs of what he calls his universal forms. Asked about this, he says:

''There are fundamental rhythms and shapes in nature that are based on the spiral, which is rudimentary to the movements of earth, wind, and water. I don't use this spiral design literally, but you will feel it in my work whether I use Cor Ten, marble, limestone, wood, or aluminum. To me the universal statement is an anonymous one. I identify with it by reason of my own interpretations, but the idea being universal has to be bigger than any one person.

''Of course, when you look at a Henry Moore you know right away it's a Henry Moore. Well, underneath his forms is the universal quality that shapes all nature; it's one of the things that make him great.

''To me the basic principle is the spiral, and though I want to add my own stamp on it, there is still a thread of its influence running through everything I do.''

Downing usually works in series. There is a Coaxial Group, a Helix Group, a Counterbalance series. The Helix works are brightly painted steel and carry an atmosphere of joy and humor. The meticulously crafted Counterbalance assembly is rich in chiseled surfaces contrasted with glistening planes of marble. As Casey runs his hand over the face of ''Center,'' he adds, ''I have a real respect for the materials so as to extract their best potential for beauty.''

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