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Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings Parrish Art Museum June 20


Rackstraw Downes, Ventilation Tower with Estivating Snow Plows, 1988.
Oil on canvas. 38 ¼ x 50 ¼ inches. Collection of Arthur Goldstein, Upper Saddle River, N.J

The painter Rackstraw Downes will have two museum shows opening this summer. The Parrish Art Museum, located in Southampton, NY will show “Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972 – 2008” from June 20 – August 8; it will then travel to the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC. A process show, “Rackstraw Downes: Under the Westside Highway” will be on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, located in Ridgefield, CT, June 27, 2010 – January 2, 2011. You may currently see an exhibition of a survey of drawings by Rackstraw Downes at the Betty Cunningham Gallery beginning June 23.

&Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972–2008, the first major survey of work by the British-born, Yale-educated artist who has been painting the American land- and urbanscape for thirty-five years, will open at the Parrish Art Museum Sunday, June 20, 2010, and remain on view through August 8. Organized by Klaus Ottmann, the Parrish’s Robert Lehman Curator, the exhibition features twenty-five major works ranging from Downes’s earliest plein-air paintings executed in Maine to his later signature paintings of the vast panoramas near his homes in Presidio, Texas and New York City.

An opening reception will be held Saturday, June 19, from 6 to 8 pm. Rackstraw Downes, Klaus Ottmann, and Terrie Sultan will discuss the artist’s work at 6 pm in the concert hall. A reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres will follow. Reservations are required for the discussion and may be secured by calling 631-283-2118, ext. 41. The reception is free for Parrish members, $10 for nonmembers.

Recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, Rackstraw Downes, who was born in England in 1939, developed his panoramic style by studying seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. His minutely detailed, oil-on-canvas landscapes invite viewers to reconsider the intersection between the natural world and man-made objects. Turning from abstract painting in the early 1960s, and encouraged by the work of his fellow painters Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter, Neil Welliver, and Jane Freilicher, Downes has pursued a unique approach to realism that defies standard categorization. He begins each work with drawings and oil sketches before it is meticulously painted on site; in order to capture the precise details of lighting and weather, he can spend many months completing a single piece. 

Rejecting picturesque views characteristic of much realist work, his landscapes depict scenes generally overlooked or dismissed for lack of a traditional aesthetic appeal. His subjects range from the roadways, urban detritus, and industrial backyards of the East Coast to the oil fields and vast, empty terrain of Texas. In painting the American landscape as it is, not as it has been idealized, Downes imbues seemingly ordinary subjects with extraordinary power. 

In an interview with Parrish Director Terrie Sultan, Rackstraw Downes said, “It’s fair to say that I’m a sort of realist and that my focus is generally on the man-made or man-modified environment.” In his catalog essay The Verity of Art: Rackstraw Downes’s Onsite Paintings, Klaus Ottmann observes, “It would be hard…to discern any nineteenth-century romanticism in locations [he has chosen]; it is a sentiment rarely in evidence in Downes’s work.” 

Downes’s artistry is deeply rooted in the history and thought of painting, and he has written highly regarded essays on visual and literary artists as varied as John Constable, Fairfield Porter, and Samuel Beckett. Considered one of the most distinctive representational painters of his generation, Downes is challenging familiar conceptions of realist painting in works of formal rigor and quiet, yet stunning, beauty.

Rackstraw Downes received a B.A. (1961) from the University of Cambridge and a B.F.A. (1963) and M.F.A. (1964) from Yale University. His work is in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, among many others. His essays have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Art in America, and Art Journal. 

The exhibition catalogue, published by D Giles Limited, London, includes essays by exhibition curator Klaus Ottmann and concert pianist and director of Da Camera of Houston Sarah Rothenberg, as well as a wide-ranging interview between the artist and Parrish Director Terrie Sultan.

The publication and exhibition are made possible through a generous grant from the Lannan Foundation with additional support provided by Rex Auchincloss, Philip H. Isles, Francis H. Williams, and one anonymous donor.

The Museum’s programs are made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency.

Parrish Art Museum 25 Jobs Lane Souithampton, NY 11968 tel. 631-283-2118


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