press release

This exhibition is the first major survey of paintings by the British-born, Yale-educated painter Rackstraw Downes (b. 1939), who divides his time between New York and Texas and has been painting exterior and interior panoramic scenes of the American land- and urbanscape for over thirty-five years.

The exhibition consists of approximately 32 works, many of them multiple-part paintings, created between 1972 and 2008. It begins with two of Downes’s earliest plein air paintings, The Pupmills at Madison and The Dam at Fairfield (both from 1974), and traces the artist’s career through major examples of his work executed during the following three decades: paintings done in Maine, Texas, New Jersey, and New York, including two haunting and foreboding depictions of untenanted interior spaces at the World Trade Center from 1998.

Downes panoramic paintings, which he developed by studying seventeenth-century Dutch panoramic landscape painting, especially those of Hercules Segers and Jacob van Ruisdael, and are informed by his training as an abstract painter at the Yale School of Art, posses a unique balance between realism and abstraction, timelessness and history. Unlike the Dutch landscape paintings, which were essentially studio constructions and spatial fictions, Downes paints exclusively from direct observation over a period of several weeks to several months, outdoors or indoors, onsite using a portable easel.

Downes paintings are based on meticulous studies yet they are not truthful depictions in a photographic sense, like the works by the American photorealist painters that became prominent in the 1970s, such as Richard Estes and Robert Bechtle. Downes’s paintings are expanded in terms of space but condensed in terms of time, not unlike a nineteenth-century photograph that had to be exposed for several hours. Downes takes creative liberties that a photorealist painter would never allow himself, and because the works are painted from observation, they are not “snapshots” of a scene recreated in the studio. Rather, they are chronicles of the human existence – records of social history as it evolves.

The exhibition is scheduled to open at the Parrish Art Museum in the summer of 2010 and travel to 3-4 additional venues thereafter.

Rackstraw Downes
Onsite Paintings, 1972–2008
Kuratoren: Klaus Ottmann, Robert Lehman

03.06. - 30.07.2010 Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York
20.06. - 08.08.2010 Parrish Art Museum, Southampton / NY
27.06.2010 - 02.01.2011 Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield