Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008

December 16, 2010 - March 20, 2011



Introduction and Acknowledgments


Your work cannot become more popular unless you choose subjects of greater interests... It seems to me that you might have sought over most landscapes for miles together, and not stumbled over anything so little rewarding your pains and skills as that "ditch and wheatfield."
- John Ruskin, 1855
For more than thirty-five years, the English-born, Yale-educated painter, Rackstraw Downes has made a case that nothing can be more, rewarding than painting that "ditch and wheatfield." Dividing his time between New York and Texas, Downes has been depicting the American vernacular with extraordinary scrutiny and intelligence.
Originally educated as hard-edge abstractionist, Downes began to paint landscapes in the mid-1960s in Maine where he had just bought a house. He was encouraged by the work of some of the leading figurative American painters at the time -- Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter, Neil Welliver, Joseph Fiore, and Jane Freilicher, among them.
In 1974, deeply touched by the sixteenth-century Flemish painters, especially Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose works he discovered while visiting Belgium and Holland, Downes began to paint exterior and interior panoramic scenes of the American land- and urbanscape from life in Maine, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and elsewhere entirely on the spot or en plein air.
Downes's paintings remind us that looking is not equal to seeing. They invite prolonged examination, in essence, recreating the artist's own "intelligent" vision, which is as much about knowledge as it is about perception.
Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008 is organized for the Parrish Art Museum by Klaus Ottmann. The presentation of this exhibition and its catalogue are made possible, in part, with generous support from the Lannan Foundation, Rex Auchincloss, Philip Isles, Francis Williams, and an anonymous donor.


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