Rackstraw Downes paints down-to-earth, often gritty features of today's American environment in an unflinching and highly realistic style. This book is the first to provide a multifaceted picture of his work, its intellectual foundations, and its place in the history of art--from both outside commentators and Downes himself.
Beautifully illustrated, with copious examples from thirty years of the artist's work, the book makes eminently clear why Downes is widely regarded as a "painter's painter." It showcases many of the artist's panoramic pictures--painted with a strong sense of place and a miniaturist's sense of scale. The images, which depict industrial parks, construction sites, housing projects, refineries, razor wire, and landfills, stimulate fresh thoughts about these supposedly unattractive sights. Bathed in the light of a precise time, the paintings resonate with a strikingly evocative quality.
The three essays that accompany Downes's art provide rare insights into the way a painter thinks and works. Sanford Schwartz explores the relationships between the artist's personal and intellectual background and his oeuvre. Robert Storr situates Downes in the context of a number of highly prominent contemporary artists such as Chuck Close, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, and Robert Smithson in a way that offers a new interpretation of Downes's work, while making clear its importance within twentieth-century art. Downes's own essay, "Turning the Head in Empirical Space," presents a direct, firsthand account of his working methods within a larger discussion on spatial paradigms of Renaissance and post-Renaissance modes of painting.
"Rackstraw Downes, the veteran painter of landscapes and urban places, is a realist esteemed by people, including me, who normally have scant use for realism in art. [His work] is powerful in quiet, stubborn ways. . . . luminous, yet taciturn: just the facts. . . . There is an existentialist, not to say quixotic, flavor to Downes's insistence on realizing the real by hand. He likes jam-ups of culture and nature, where practical human uses overlap with indifferent geology and shaggy flora--he is the bard of weeds."--Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker
"Beyond bringing before the public the work of this important and uncommonly independent artist, this book will have an impact on the larger discourse on contemporary art. Its three essays are diverse in their purpose and thrust and provide a complex picture of Downes's art, its intellectual foundations, and its place in relation to the work of some of his most discussed and celebrated contemporaries. The book will be widely read by painters, critics, theorists, and art historians, as well as anyone interested in the social implications of our use and misuse of the environment."--Robert Berlind, Purchase College, State University of New York
"This book will force us to change our thinking about the art of the last thirty years. It truly illuminates Rackstraw Downes and makes us understand just how important he is and has been--a truly outstanding artist of the top rank."--William Agee, Hunter College, author of Sam Francis, Paintings 1947-1990