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Betty Cuningham Gallery opens exhibition of paintings and drawings by Rackstraw Downes
Rackstraw Downes, Skylit Loftspace, NYC (seated), 2015. Oil on Linen, 24 x 38 in. (60.96 x 96.52 cm).


NEW YORK, NY.- Rackstraw Downes, Paintings and Drawings, opened the season at Betty Cuningham Gallery on Wednesday, September 5th.

This is Downes first solo show since 2014. His steadfast commitment to painting from observation, on site from start to finish, remains tantamount. Among the 11 paintings on view are three interiors of the artist’s living/studio space: two looking to the west (one painted standing, one sitting) and a third looking to the east - every chair, book, light, etc. considered anew, part of a familiar environment seen freshly. The site of three other paintings is an intersection near Columbia Presbyterian Hospital; here Downes turns the ordinary into the extraordinary observing each angle, far, near, north, and south. In an atypical vertical painting, Outdoor Passageway at 15 Rivington, Downes reveals and reveres all, from weeds to A/C units, from ground to sky. In contrast, two Texas paintings are characteristically horizontal (a demand of our West) where the richness of each creosote bush or each power line is delivered with reverence.

A study accompanies each of the two Texas paintings, while one or more related drawings hang alongside each of the other nine paintings. For Downes, drawings and studies are means to know the site – very much like “successive meetings with a person; you keep discovering more”.

On Saturday, September 22, 4 – 6PM to celebrate Rackstraw Downes and this exhibition, Rackstraw Downes: a painter, a 40 minute film by Rima Yamazaki will be previewed. Copies of Rackstraw Downes’ Nature and Art are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008, published in 2014 by Richard Milazzo of Edgewise Press, will also be available for the artist to sign. A conversation with Rima, Richard and Rackstraw will follow the film.

The current exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and will remain on view through October 14, 2018.

RACKSTRAW DOWNES, born in England in 1939, received his BA from University of Cambridge in 1961and his BFA and MFA from Yale University in 1963 and 1964 respectively. He remained in the United States, becoming a citizen in 1980. He is the recipient of the Guggenheim (1998) and MacArthur (2009) Fellowships, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999). A retrospective, Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008, was organized by the Parrish Art Museum in 2010. It traveled to the Portland Museum of Art, ME, and the Weatherspoon Museum in Greensboro, NC. His work is in the collections of several museums including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art.
Notably, he delivered the Ninth Annual Raymond Lecture for the Archives of American Art in 2009; in 2011, he participated in a Wyeth Foundation for American Art Conference at the National Gallery of Art, entitled Landscape in American Art, 1940-2000 where he delivered the address “From There to Here;’ in 2012 he was featured on PBS’s critically acclaimed Art 21 series, and in 2015, he delivered the inaugural Betty Jean & Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture at the University of California, Davis.

His essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Art in America, ARTnews, and Art Journal. In 2014, Edgewise Press published Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes. A monograph, with essays by Robert Storr, Sanford Schwartz and Rackstraw Downes, was published by Princeton University Press in 2005. Other books include Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal (Turning the Head Press, 2000); In Relation to the Whole: Three Essays from Three Decades – 1973, 1981, 1996 (Edgewise Press 2004) and the volume of writings he edited in 1979, Fairfield Porter: Art in Its Own Terms, (Reprinted by the MFA, Boston, 2008).

There is one thing I think realism is definitely not, though it is often confused with it, and that is a technique. Technique is a skill you can learn so you don’t have to respond to what you are looking at, you don’t have to be inquisitive about it. If something is real to you, the question becomes, not How do I do that, but What is this phenomenon I’m perceiving? --Rackstraw Downes





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